Sunday, October 21, 2012
The year is 1979. The U.S. embassy has been overrun by Iranians seeking vengeance against the deposed Shah, who has fled to the U.S. for surgical treatment. During the intense fray, six American officials escape the embassy and secretly take refuge in the home of the Canadian ambassador. Argo is the story of the CIA's plan to extract the six Americans that have gone into hiding--if they are found by the Iranians, they are sure to be taken and probably executed in a brutal and violent manner.
Luckily, the CIA has a creative force with a sense of humor: Tony Mendez (Affleck), a quiet and intense man who is a master at getting people out of tough situations. Mendez, thinking (way) outside the box, easily shoots down other official's ideas to try and covertly get the six out and comes up with a plan that is so absolutely insane that it might actually work: enlisting a movie make-up artist, John Chambers (John Goodman), and a film producer, Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) to create a fake film, called Argo, concocting all of the aspects that the process involves (screenwriting, casting, a press release). Mendez, then posing as a producer himself, will fly to Tehren, meet up with the six hideways, and help them pose as a Canadian film crew scouting locations for futuristic, middle-eastern-set fake film.
Argo isn't perfect: the ending goes on and on, and it's somewhat predictable in places (as any real life story tends to be), but it has a magic that keeps your eyes glued to the cinema screen. At times, it reminded me of last year's Hugo, particularly in the way it shows how film can more than just a distraction for a couple of hours: it can cause a purpose in a person's life--or even save someone's life. No specific performance is amazingly special, though I did really enjoy Affleck's calm and funny portrayal of Mendez. But taken as a whole, everyone plays their small part to make the film one of the more enjoyable of the year. You probably know the ending to Argo, if you've read any articles on the film or have a good memory of recent U.S. history. However, the conclusion is only a small part of the fun and tension-covered journey. When Mendez takes the group out in public, to solidify their status as a Canadian film crew, dodging violence and gun-weilding revolutionaries, whether or not you know if they make it home doesn't matter: like most scenes in Argo, you'll be on the edge of your seat. (B+)
Saturday, October 13, 2012
Patience and A Suspension of Disbelief: The Very Specific Set of Skills You Need to Sit Through Taken 2
This time, Mills and his wife and daughter travel to Istanbul. It's all fun (lounging in a hotel suite with gorgeous views of the city and swimming in shiny blue pools) until--while out on a date--Mills and his wife, Lenore (Famke Janssen), get taken. By who, you may ask? A better question would be: does it matter? These Albanian villains are all simple creations, with cliche dialogue and the ability to shoot ten billion bullets without having to reload, leaning in and out of doorways and alleyways like popups at a shooting range. These uninspired baddies, straight from the foreign villain handbook, are led by a man named Murad, who is the father of a man that Mills killed in Taken, electrocuting him with homemade jumper cables. So Murad has made it his mission to kill Mills--after he witnesses his wife and daughter get tortured first.
Through a tense phone call seconds before he gets taken, Mills contacts his daughter and gives her instructions to avoid getting kidnapped herself. In one of the funnier scenes in Taken 2, she drags her dad's CIA kill kit from the closet and proceeds to run around the rooftops of the city, dodging big drops and bad dudes, setting off grenades in different locations so Mills--clearly the smartest agent in the history of agencies--can lead her to him just by the big sounds of boom. She get's to him at the exact moment that Taken 2 moves from laughable to straight boring.
Maybe I wouldn't be so harsh on Taken 2 if I hadn't enjoyed the first one so much. But deep down I thought that the cast and crew could at least make something comparable, rather than incredibly worse. There are no thrills: sitting here at my computer, trying to think of the most exciting moment of the movie, all I can do is muster a yawn. There are no exciting moments in Taken 2. For the general movie-going public, it's just a bad movie. For lovers of Taken, it's insulting. If Neeson (more like "when Neeson", because after making a killing at the box office, it's bound to happen) gets a call from his agent to star in Taken 3, where Bryan Mills must save his daughter's unborn baby from revenge-seeking Albanians, hopefully he just hangs up his phone...and decides to take a nap instead. (D-)
Monday, October 1, 2012
The year is 2044. The United States is recognizable but is in a realistic state of danger and dilapidation after an economic collapse. 10% of the population has a genetic mutation causing minor telekinesis (essentially boys floating small objects in their hands in order to impress pretty girls). Flash forward 30 years to 2074: time travel has been discovered, but the powers that be deemed it far too dangerous to be legal--imagine the repercussions of citizens travelling back in time, causing a butterfly effect across decades. However, the mob--led by a new, brutal head boss with no remorse referred to as "The Rainmaker"--has decided that time travel is great way to dispose of bodies (The Mob loves capitalizing on illegal activity). In the year 2074, tracking devices make it far too hard to discreetly "off" the competition. So this major criminal enterprise, taking control of the time travel machine, send people back in time 30 years to 2044, where gunmen called "loopers" are waiting, blunderbuss in hand, ready to blow brain matter and chunks of flesh onto plastic sheets (easier for cleanup).
Are you following? Picture this: a man (a looper) stands in the middle of a cornfield in 2044. He has his powerful gun in hand. Five feet away sits an empty plastic sheet, lightly blowing in the wind. He compulsively checks his ticking watch. Poof, a different man appears on the plastic (from 2074), tied up with a hood covering his head. Boom, the man dies and blood squirts. Let's make things more complicated: when the crime boss (from 2074) wants to end a looper's contract, they send the looper's 30-year future self back in time to 2044, where his 30-year younger self is waiting, yet again, with a gun in his hand, ready to kill. This is called "closing the loop", and when this happens, the looper from 2044 collects a giant payday and is free to live out the next 30 years in whatever way he wants to. In this future world, many loopers end up addicted to an epensive psychedelic drug in the form of eye drops, living in addiction and squalor.
The looper that Looper focuses on is named Joe. He's played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt (popping up in many new releases nowadays), as a cocky, drug-addicted gunman who lives for the silver he gets in order to get his next fix, to get to the next party, to hook up with the next beautiful woman. But he doesn't quite look like himself. In preparation of filming Looper every day, Levitt had to sit in the make-up chair, donning realistic prosthetics and accentuating make-up to look a little more like...Bruce Willis. He even has mannerisms like Willis and sounds like Willis. You half expect him to utter, "Yippee Ki Yay, Motherfucker!", whenever he pulls the trigger.
Phew, this time travel stuff is complicated. Luckily, Looper doesn't dwell too long on the technical aspects of the space/time continuum and doesn't bother with the question of whether effecting a butterfly's flight trajectory will cause a future nuclear explosion. Other good actors appear in important roles, namely Jeff Daniel's as Joe's sometimes-forgiving-sometimes-malicious boss and Emily Blunt as a secluded farm owner with pertinent secrets of her own. But the real star of this show is Rian Johnson, whose script is just smart enough and just fast-paced enough to not question the validity of the time travel scenario and whose direction is fervent and beautiful. Looper makes plenty of sense if you go by the guidelines of the rules in which it creates. It's easiest to sit back and take Old Joe's advice when talking to Young Joe at a diner (I'm paraphrasing): "We're not gonna sit here all day and talk about time travel, we'd be here all day making diagrams with straws." Taking that sound advice, Looper--like shooting a blast from a blunderbuss barrel--is loud, violent, and incredibly exciting. (A)