With each outing in his evolving filmmaking career actor-turned-director Ben Affleck has amped up the scope. Gone Baby Gone was a character drama woven into a hard-boiled mystery. The Town saw Affleck dabble in action pulling off bank heists many compared to the expertise of Heat. In Argo the director pulls off his most daring effort melding one part caper comedy and two parts edge-of-your-seat political thriller into an exhilarating theatrical experience.
At the height of the Iranian Revolution in 1979 anti-Shah militants stormed the U.S. embassy and captured 52 American hostages. Six managed to escape the raid finding refuge in the Canadian ambassador's home. Within hours the militants began a search for the missing Americans sifting through shredded paperwork for even the smallest bit of evidence. Under pressure by the ticking clock the CIA worked quickly to formulate a plan to covertly rescue the six embassy workers. Despite a lengthy list of possibilities only Tony Mendez (Affleck) had a plan just enticing enough to unsuspecting Iranian officials to work: the CIA would fake a Hollywood movie shoot.
There's nothing in Argo or Affleck's portrayal of Mendez that would tell you the technical operations officer has the imagination to conjure his master plan — Affleck perhaps to differentiate himself from the past plays his character with so much restraint he looks dead in the eyes — but when the Hollywood hijinks swing into full motion so does Argo. Mendez hooks up with Planet of the Apes makeup artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) to convince all of Hollywood that their sci-fi blockbuster "Argo " is readying for production. With enough promotional material concept art and press coverage Mendez and his team can convince the Iranian government they're a legit operation. A location scout in Tehran will be their method of extracting the bunkered down escapees.
Without an interesting lead to draw us in Affleck lets his eclectic ensemble do the heavy lifting. For the most part it works. Argo is basically two movies — Goodman and Arkin lead the Ocean's 11-esque half and Affleck takes the reigns when its time to get the six — another who's who of character actors including Tate Donovan Clea Duvall Scoot McNairy and Rory Cochrane — through the terrifying security of the Iranian airport. Arkin steals the show as a fast talking Hollywood type complete with year-winning catchphrase ("ArGo f**k yourself!) while McNairy adds a little more humanity to the spy mission when his character butts heads with Mendez. The split lessens the impact of each section but the tension in the escape is so high so taut that there's never a moment to check out.
Reality is on Affleck's side his camera floating through crowds of protestors and the streets of Tehran — a warscape where anything can happen. Each angle he chooses heightens the terror which starts to close in on the covert escape as they drift further and further from their homebase. Argo is a complete package with the '70s production design knowing when to play goofy (the fake movie's wild sci-fi designs) and when to remind us that problems took eight more steps to fix then they do today. Alexandre Desplat's score finds balance in haunting melodies and energetic pulses.
Part of Argo's charm is just how unreal the entire operation really was. To see the men and women involved go through with a plan they know could result in death. It's a suspenseful adventure and while there's not much in the way of character to cling to the visceral experience tends to be enough.
L.A. Critics go Sideways
The Los Angeles Film Critics Association named Sideways, about two men searching for love in California's wine country, as the year's best film and Clint Eastwood's female boxing movie Million Dollar Baby as the runner-up, Reuters reports. Sideways also got nods for best director Alexander Payne, supporting actress Virginia Madsen and supporting actor Thomas Haden Church. Britain's Imelda Staunton was named best actress for her portrayal as an abortionist in Vera Drake and Irish actor Liam Neeson was handed the best actor honor for playing U.S. sex researcher Dr. Alfred Kinsey in Kinsey. House of Flying Daggers was named best foreign language film, while The Incredibles won for best animated film. Born into Brothels edged out director Michael Moore's controversial Fahrenheit 9/11 as the Los Angeles critics' best documentary. The Los Angeles Film Critics Association will honor the winners of their 30th annual awards at a dinner on January 13.
AFI picks Aviator, Incredibles
The American Film Institute also announced their list of 2004's Top 10 movies, including Martin Scorsese's Howard Hughes biopic The Aviator and the smash animated hit The Incredibles, The Associated Press reports. Other on the list included the sequel Spider-Man 2; Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby; quirky romances Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Sideways; football drama Friday Night Lights; the drug-smuggling drama Maria Full of Grace; and the sexuality researcher Alfred Kinsey biopic Kinsey. The institute's top 10 television programs of the year were HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm, Deadwood, The Sopranos and Something the Lord Made, ABC's Desperate Housewives and Lost, FX's Nip/Tuck and The Shield, Fox's Arrested Development and Comedy Central's South Park.
Jacko's fingerprints found on porno mag
Citing unidentified sources, the Santa Barbara News-Press reported Saturday that fingerprints belonging to both Michael Jackson and the boy accusing him of child molestation were found on pornographic magazines seized from the singer's Neverland ranch last year. According to AP, prosecutors could argue the fingerprints were proof Jackson showed the boy pornographic literature before molesting him. But if the reported evidence is admitted during Jackson's trial, the defense could question whether the entertainer knew the boy had been looking through the porn stash. According to News-Press, the boy and his brother often visited Neverland when Jackson wasn't home. Jackson, 46, has pleaded not guilty to charges of child molestation, conspiracy and administering an intoxicating agent, alcohol, to his alleged victim.
Anderson gets Fox sitcom
Former Baywatch hottie Pamela Anderson has signed on for a Fox sitcom about a woman who's trying to change her life and break her habit of falling for less-than-responsible men, Reuters reports. Before even reading a completed script, the network committed to six episodes of the project from writer-producer Steven Levitan, who created NBC's Just Shoot Me.
TV movie to depict Ovitz and Eisner's relationship
Showtime writer Frederic Raphael is developing Two Blind Mikes, a TV movie about the bitter business relationship between Hollywood heavyweights Michael Eisner and Michael Ovitz, Variety reports. Disney chief executive Eisner hired agent-to-the-stars Ovitz as the Mouse House's president in 1994 but his tenure ended after a trouble-plagued 14-month period. A shareholders' lawsuit, now being heard, contends Disney's board was negligent in hiring Ovitz to a lucrative deal and negligent again when it agreed to a $140 million package settlement to oust him in Dec. 1995. Casting for the film and an air date were not announced.
Madame Tussaud's nativity tableau vandalized
A controversial nativity scene at Madame Tussaud's waxwork museum in London featuring England soccer captain David Beckham as Joseph and his pop star wife "Posh Spice" Victoria as the Virgin Mary was attacked Sunday, Reuters reports. The wax tableau, which depicts pop star Kylie Minogue hovering above the crib as an angel, also features Tony Blair, George W. Bush and the Duke of Edinburgh as The Three Wise Men and Samuel L. Jackson, Hugh Grant and Graham Norton as the shepherds. A spokeswoman for Madame Tussaud's said a protester had pushed down the Posh and Beckham wax figures but added, "The baby Jesus is fine." The piece was intended as a tongue-in-cheek way of bringing the nativity to a wider audience but has angered Anglicans, Catholics and Presbyterians.