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.
A kids’ movie without the cheeky jokes for adults is like a big juicy BLT without the B… or the T. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted may have a title that sounds like it was made up in a cartoon sequel laboratory but when it comes to serving up laughs just think of the film as a BLT with enough extra bacon to satisfy even the wildest of animals — or even a parent with a gaggle of tots in tow. Yes even with that whole "Afro Circus" nonsense.
It’s not often that we find exhaustively franchised films like the Madagascar set that still work after almost seven years. Despite being spun off into TV shows and Christmas specials in addition to its big screen adventures the series has not only maintained its momentum it has maintained the part we were pleasantly surprised by the first time around: great jokes.
In this third installment of the series – the trilogy-maker if you will – directing duo Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath add Conrad Vernon (director Monsters Vs. Aliens) to the helm as our trusty gang swings back into action. Alex the lion (Ben Stiller) Marty the zebra (Chris Rock) Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) are stuck in Africa after the hullaballoo of Madagascar 2 and they’ll do anything to get back to their beloved New York. Just a hop skip and a jump away in Monte Carlo the penguins are doing their usual greedy schtick but the zoo animals catch up with them just in time to catch the eye of the sinister animal control stickler Captain Dubois (Frances McDormand). And just like that the practically super human captain is chasing them through Monte Carlo and the rest of Europe in hopes of planting Alex’s perfectly coifed lion head on her wall of prized animals.
Luckily for pint-sized viewers Dubois’ terrifying presence is balanced out by her sheer inhuman strength uncanny guiles and Stretch Armstrong flexibility (ah the wonder of cartoons) as well as Alex’s escape plan: the New Yorkers run away with the European circus. While Dubois’ terrifying Doberman-like presence looms over the entire film a sense of levity (which is a word the kiddies might learn from Stiller’s eloquent lion) comes from the plan for salvation in which the circus animals and the zoo animals band together to revamp the circus and catch the eye of a big-time American agent. Sure the pacing throughout the first act is practically nonexistent running like a stampede through the jungle but by the time we're palling around under the big top the film finds its footing.
The visual splendor of the film (and man is there a champion size serving of it) the magnificent danger and suspense is enhanced to great effect by the addition of 3D technology – and not once is there a gratuitous beverage or desperate Crocodile Dundee knife waved in our faces to prove its worth. The caveat is that the soundtrack employs a certain infectious Katy Perry ditty at the height of the 3D spectacular so parents get ready to hear that on repeat until the leaves turn yellow.
But visual delights and adventurous zoo animals aside Madagascar 3’s real strength is in its script. With the addition of Noah Baumbach (Greenberg The Squid and the Whale) to the screenwriting team the script is infused with a heightened level of almost sarcastic gravitas – a welcome addition to the characteristically adult-friendly reference-heavy humor of the other Madagascar films. To bring the script to life Paramount enlisted three more than able actors: Vitaly the Siberian tiger (Bryan Cranston) Gia the Leopard (Jessica Chastain) and Stefano the Italian Sealion (Martin Short). With all three actors draped in European accents it might take viewers a minute to realize that the cantankerous tiger is one and the same as the man who plays an Albuquerque drug lord on Breaking Bad but that makes it that much sweeter to hear him utter slant-curse words like “Bolshevik” with his usual gusto.
Between the laughs the terror of McDormand’s Captain Dubois and the breathtaking virtual European tour the Zoosters’ accidental vacation is one worth taking. Madagascar 3 is by no means an insta-classic but it’s a perfectly suited for your Summer-at-the-movies oasis.
Aubrey O’Day’s quest to win the Celebrity Apprentice crown came to an abrupt halt last night when Donald Trump fired her from the competition, leaving Clay Aiken and Arsenio Hall to battle it out for the title. But given that this singer/actress has never been one to shy away from expressing her opinions, she recently chatted with Hollywood.com about her elimination and all the drama that ensued during her time on the show. Just don't call her "transparent."
Indeed, the Celebrity Apprentice shoot might be finished, but O'Day is still finding it difficult to digest John Rich's criticism of the former Danity Kane singer, which eventually led to her firing. "I think that it was just misspeaking on his part," he says. "He came there being a hardass. He was trying to find something to say about me. And I love that the one thing he found to say was the one thing that I’ve proven, time and time again, that I’m not. So, to me, and to the rest of the viewers, I think it just looked silly." Of course, O'Day's screen time didn't end Sunday night with her firing — nor did the insults. After being asked back to help the two finalists, Arsenio Hall and Clay Aiken, O'Day had to cope with being chosen last, gym class-style. "I just think the guys have always kind of teamed up, and wanted to take me out, and wanted to put me in my place," the actress says. "It could possibly have something to do with being threatened by a strong woman. It could be that they just don’t like me. But, as Clay said many times, I’m incredibly smart, and they saw me as a threat. So it’s probably that. It’s just typical them." Not that the singer was unsatisfied with joining Team Aiken. After all, in O'Day's eyes, Aiken would pick up the final prize "if there's any fairness" to Celebrity Apprentice — that is, despite the unfairness of her firing. "I think both of them kind of slid by in the competition," O'Day says of Hall and Aiken. "[Hall] kind of relied on everyone else to do his job. Which is convenient, because if it messes up, then it’s our fault. And if it does well, then he’ll take credit for it. Like we saw him continuously do — take credit for my work." That, of course, wasn't Hall's most heinous offense, according to O'Day. The singer says Hall's expletive-filled tirade against O'Day — which led her to (very) briefly leave the show — was edited down. "It was really crazy. It was crazier than they showed," O'Day says. "There was a lot of things that he said that they couldn’t air." But how about the not-so-nice things she said that made it on the air? Her knocks at Tia Carrere's age? Her jabs at Hall's current lack of superstardom? Her repeated mockery of The Debbie Gibson Comeback Tour? "I think there were definitely heightened feelings at stressful points [when] I wanted to make great television. And also, [when I was] disappointed in people’s behavior, and I came off pretty harsh," she says. "I don’t like saying the words ‘regret,’ or ‘apologize,’ or ‘sorry.’ Those are just words. It’s what you do with what you’ve experienced, and how you move forward in the future with that information. I’ve definitely taken a lot from this show, and there are definitely things that I can improve on as a person from this show." Gibson has certainly moved forward following the back-stabbing barbs — O'Day says she and the "Only In My Dreams" singer have developed a close bond since Celebrity Apprentice wrapped. "Debbie and I come from different eras of music," O'Day says. "She was in more of a pop world, and I was in more of an R&B world. We just have very different perspectives and understandings of music and artistry. The more I got to understand her and understand her life — knowing that she was a child star and that it has kind of always been about her since she was really young — I think that I got to have more of an understanding of how she is and why she does what she does. I absolutely adore her now. I’m friends with her. I talk to her the most out of anyone." But despite all her chronicled flaws, O'Day, who mentioned she'd like to move on from Celebrity Apprentice to a series that helps develop girl groups, remains confident — especially in her ability to entertain. "I’m just great at making television. Period," she says. She might say she's the best. (Reporting by Lindsey DiMattina) More: Celebrity Apprentice: Are You 'Woot'-ing for Arsenio Hall? Celebrity Apprentice: Did Donald Trump Get the Final Three Right? Celebrity Apprentice: Now THAT's What I Call a Boardroom! [Image: Wenn.com]