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.
Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol comes to Blu-ray/DVD on April 17. For those fans out there who are interested in becoming secret agents on their own accord, there's a special feature that might catch your interest: mask-making.
The below clip from the Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol Blu-ray feature "Life Masks" shows the technology behind the creation of the masks seen in the most recent of Ethan Hunt's (Tom Cruise) big screen adventures.
As you'll learn in the below video, the mask-making team kicked it up a notch since Mission: Impossible 3. Back then, you could only make one mask at a time. But in this new era of impossible missions, no mission is impossible. Even the mission of making two masks at once. Amazingly, the technology isn't that far off from from what the real spies are using. At an event in Washington D.C.'s International Spy Museum, former CIA agent Jonna Hiestand Mendez explained to reporter Matt Patches that "bioimaging" is used by agents in the field to create highly detailed disguises. Like artists utilize 3D printing, spies can utilize the technology to pull off Ethan Hunt-style switcheroos. Pretty impressive.
Check out the exclusive featurette for more:
Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol Will Drop In on Blu-ray/DVD
Exclusive Interview: Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol Director Brad Bird
IMAX President Greg Foster Talks Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol
It’s not often that an entry in this column carries a caveat. The very purpose of these articles is to shed light on the unsung and the obscure in such a way as to cast a wide net for a larger audience. It is therefore counterproductive to thin the herd by warning off certain people. But if you are not a fan of classic, gory, splatter or slasher films from the '80s, I am not going to be able to convince you to seek out this week’s subject. It may behoove you to stop reading now, but thanks for stopping by. Well, now that those folks have left the room, have I got a disgustingly awesome treat for the rest of you!
In 2007, a film was released that paid the ultimate homage to the horror films on which so many of us grew up and for which we harbor massive affection. The film was Hatchet and, along with taking horror back to some of its goriest roots, it introduced the world to two new boogeymen: serial killer Victor Crowley and director Adam Green. The film got a limited theatrical release, but it was enough to develop a near cult following and cultivate a demand for a sequel.
Last year, Adam Green unleashed Hatchet 2 on film-fest audiences and managed to outdo himself on nearly every conceivable level. In the horror universe, there are a few requisite upgrades fans expect. If you’ve ever seen Scream 2, you’re aware of these conventions. Green hurdles the first expectation by upping the mayhem and bloodletting to astronomical proportions. The carnage in Hatchet 2 is, by all rights, inhuman, but for fans of the genre, it is like being visited by an old friend…who then kills you with a chainsaw. If you’ve seen the first Hatchet, many of the familiar brutalities are revisited and new ones are introduced that will elicit as many cheers as they do groans. The fact that a staggering majority of these kills is achieved with practical effects is a true testament to the legitimate artistry of special effects and how the all-too-frequent replacement of these effects with CG is shameful.
Another criterion of the horror sequel is that it should enhance the concept of the original film and, especially with slasher films, further the legend of its monster. Hatchet 2 gives us an interesting backstory for Victor Crowley and ties formerly ancillary characters in as conspirators in Crowley’s origins. But more than that, Green actually weaves his earlier works into this film to lend credence to the idea that they all exist within the same universe (a la Tarantino). There are ads in shops for the “Slap Chop” from his fantastic Halloween-themed short film as well as ubiquitous television sets featuring press conferences detailing the aftermath of the events of Frozen.
But what I really love about Hatchet 2 is its reverent celebration of the horror genre as a community. As with the original, the film stars two major titans of horror: Tony Todd (Candyman) and Kane Hodder (Friday the 13th VII-X). But Hatchet 2 also offers cameos from horror filmmakers both classic and fledgling: Joe Lynch (Wrong Turn 2), Lloyd Kaufman (guru of Troma Films), Marcus Dunstan (The Collector), Mike Mendez (The Gravedancers) and Dave Parker (The Hills Run Red). It also stars Danielle Harris (the child star of Halloween 4 & 5) and Tom Holland (director of Child’s Play and Fright Night). The inclusion of all these horror personalities echoes Green’s commitment to the genre and his singular desire to make films for avid fans like us.
On top of all of this, Hatchet 2 is tighter, smarter and more elegantly shot than its predecessor. It also features better overall performances, especially those of Kane Hodder and Hatchet franchise newcomer A.J. Bowen. The spirit of the original film is alive and well but nicely augmented in perfect sequel fashion. The ending of the film is spectacular and, again, feels like a love letter to fans of great slasher films.
Being that the MPAA more or less stole away any opportunity you may have had to see this film in theaters -- do not get me started -- it isn't a mystery as to why you may not yet have seen Hatchet 2. But this injustice will be rectified next Tuesday, when the film is released on DVD and Blu-ray. I highly suggest picking up a copy, gathering your most hardcore horror-geek buddies, and enjoying a night of blood, boobs and dark comedy as only our beloved genre can deliver.
Four girlfriends head into their near-40s and wonder if they'd even be friends if they met today. Frannie (Joan Cusack) is rich and happily married trying to decide how to give away $2 million. Christine (Catherine Keener) is fighting with her co-screenwriting partner/husband (Jason Isaacs) about an addition to their house and Jane (Frances McDormand) is a successful fashion designer who won't wash her hair--and has a husband (Simon McBurney) everyone thinks is gay. The youngest of the friends is Olivia (Jennifer Aniston) who's single a pothead and a maid who goes through people's drawers. The other three worry about Olivia and set her up with handsome trainer (Scott Caan) but he ends up treating her as bad as all her past boyfriends. It isn’t until she meets Marty (Bob Stephenson) an average-Joe living in a messy apartment does she finally find some harmony. No Aniston isn't doing Rachel from Friends here although it may look like that at first. Rachel would never take a vibrator out of a stranger's drawer and well you know. More the actress revisits her Good Girl character adding some additional more hard-hitting layers. Some of the fights she has with Caan sound like they could have come right out of a spat she may have had with Brad Pitt. Oscar-winner McDormand is once again a wonder as a woman so filled with angst and anger she has no idea the effect she has on those around her. Keener too steps up as the screenwriter struggling with a failing marriage. In fact all the relationships these women have hit home mostly because this odd collection of stellar actresses seem to have a genuine and natural affinity for one another. Writer/director Nicole Holofcener has captured a world of cross-economic friendships that may seem awkward but comes across as realistic. She has cast her alter-ego Keener in all three of her films including Walking & Talking and Lovely & Amazing. This time Keener is a bit more hard-edged and frustrated and yet excruciatingly funny when she admits "I don't get SpongeBob." Holofcener has painted the men into the background very subtly but ultimately are unimportant to the friendships anyway. Some of the best moments are when the group is together chatting and talking over each other and that's why it's going to be unfairly compared to Sex and the City--girlfriends do get together in other cities too. Friends with Money is just an enjoyable slice-of-life for couples of any kind.
A young Mexican woman Maya (Pilar Padilla) is anxious to come to America and live a better life. In a daring opener she illegally crosses the California/Mexican border and with a few glitches she eventually joins her older sister Rosa (Elpidia Carrillo) in Los Angeles. For Rosa a life trying to support her two children and tend to her sick husband has been hard-she is well aware of the harsh realities of Latinos in the U.S. But the optimistic and eager Maya nonetheless wants to work with Rosa at her job as a building janitor. Unfortunately her views quickly sour when the conditions on the job become almost unbearable especially under a tyrannical and lecherous boss. Then she disccovers her true voice. With the help of a passionate union activist Sam (Adrien Brody) Maya fights for her workplace to join the "Justice for Janitors" union. Rosa believes these actions will only end in disaster but Maya is convinced she can win every battle on her own terms. Her fight ultimately leads to unexpected consequences--and sacrifices--in the young woman's life.
Director Ken Loach blends a combination of experienced film actors with raw newcomers to form a truly excellent ensemble cast but spirited Mexican actress Pilar Padilla's debut performance is what draws you into the film. Loach originally did not consider her for the part because she didn't speak English but through improvisations in Mexico where she acted as a sparring partner for other candidates her sheer presence made the camera gravitate towards her. With an intensive crash course in English she became Maya. Also superb is Elpidia Carrillo (Salvador) whose jaded yet fiercely independent Rosa counteracts Maya's youthful innocence. In the pivotal scene where Rosa lets Maya know how much she has truly sacrficed for Maya and her family the audience is just as horrified as Maya--and riveted. Indie favorite Adrien Brody (Liberty Heights) does a nice job as Sam the union activist whose guerilla methods provide some interesting comic relief and his and Padilla's love scenes are at once sweetly sexy and slightly goofy.
Though the beauty of Bread and Roses is that it gives an intimate and social portrait of the real life struggles Latinos face in contemporary Los Angeles British director Loach comes to the story as an outsider much as Maya does when she first gets to Los Angeles. Nonetheless it offers insight into the experiences of a extremely hard-working group of people who once thought of America as the place to make a life for themselves. When they arrive in this land of plenty however many find they have to get what jobs they can for very little money--and with little support from the establishment. The rights of the working man is not an unfamiliar theme in films but to have it treated from a Latino perspective is refreshing. Loach also uses both Spanish and English subtitles often switching mid-sentence as the actors speak both languages at the same time. The technique is a tad hard to follow at first but it eventually flows immersing the viewer into the reality of this world.