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.
P.J. Hogan's Peter Pan follows J.M. Barrie's story almost to the letter. A girl on the brink of womanhood Wendy Darling (newcomer Rachel Hurd-Wood) loves telling her brothers John (Harry Newell) and Michael (Freddie Popplewell) stories of dastardly pirates as they sit in their nursery under the watchful eye of their St. Bernard Nana. Her 19th-century Londoner parents however believe the time has come for the young girl to grow up especially her father. Then a cheeky wild-haired boy named Peter Pan (Jeremy Sumpter) flies through the nursery window one night with his trusted yet jealousy-prone fairy Tinkerbell (Ludivine Sagnier) telling Wendy he can take her to a place full of adventure where no one ever has to grow up. She readily accepts the offer and with a few happy thoughts some fairy dust and her two brothers in tow she flies off to Neverland. (Not the ranch…the real place.) Once there Wendy encounters mermaids Indians and the Lost Boys (who refer to her as "mother") and gets the whole pirate experience in Peter's ongoing feud with arch-nemesis Captain Hook (Jason Isaacs). But Wendy soon becomes conflicted because on the one hand she likes hangin' with hottie Peter but on the other she misses her mother. She decides it's probably best to go back and grow up but in her hurry to leave she ends up in Hook's clutches. A rescue ensues. Swords clash ticking crocodiles are fed and fairies are saved as our clever fly boy zooms Wendy and company back to London on a giant pirate ship. But does he stay and grow up himself? Hell no he's a Toys 'R Us kid forever!
All the kid actors in Peter Pan are highly watchable and appealing with angelic faces peaches-and-cream complexions and pouty cherry lips. This is the first time Peter is being played by a real-life boy a fact much hyped by the filmmakers and 12-year-old Sumpter (Frailty) does his best to live up to the expectations. (He's soon to be swoon-worthy material for sure.) He's got a mischievous gleam in his eye and a great sly smile but he really lights up when he's looking into Wendy's adorable face. Hurd-Wood the first-time actress who plays the spirited girl earned her role after a long and involved casting process it's well deserved; she fits the typical English-girl profile perfectly and gets the hang of her craft quickly infusing the character with a natural cheerful energy. It's also refreshing to see the young actors play up Wendy and Peter's feelings of first love which prior films always hinted at but never fully realized. Isaacs in a dual role as the firm-but-loving Mr. Darling and the frightening comical lonely charming needy reprehensible Captain Hook draws on his experience at playing exquisitely awful baddies (The Patriot Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) and really sinks his claws into Hook. In a stand out supporting role French actress Sagnier (Swimming Pool) is really fantastic as the vivacious non-speaking Tinkerbell portraying the fairy's conflicted emotions with a silent-film over-the-top technique.
Director/writer P.J. Hogan (My Best Friend's Wedding) and his team try to distinguish their film from the other Peter Pans of the world by using all the technical and special effects wizardry at their disposal. Hogan says his Peter Pan is the way its author Barrie intended to be when he wrote it as a play over a 100 years ago--full of fantasy and wonder. In a way he's right and production designer Roger Ford and visual effects supervisor Scott Farrar take his vision and run with it giving audiences a very lush Neverland with waterfalls fluffy pink clouds crystal-blue waters and a gorgeous fairy world. But despite the bells and whistles there really isn't anything original and different in this Pan. Even its look at the dark side of Neverland has been done in Steven Spielberg's 1991 semi-sequel Hook which showed the dangers of Neverland. In this version lives really are at stake and the pirates are not cute and fun. Even the mermaids are mysterious and malevolent with scary faces and murderous intentions a far cry from the beautiful if somewhat mean-spirited creatures of the 1953 classic Disney animated adaptation another inescapable influence on the audience. When the crocodile draws near for example tick-tocking away the croc's signature tune from the Disney film comes immediately to mind. People may love those Disney films for those cutesy catchy songs but Peter Pan really is a good story. Heck it's a great story. But it's just been done.
February 14, 2002 1:18pm EST
Jennifer Lopez returned to the top of the charts Wednesday with the debut of her third album J to Tha L-O! The Remixes. Featuring 11 remixed tracks from her two releases, Lopez's new album got a little push from her ex-boyfriend Sean "P. Diddy" Combs, who is credited with remixes for the formerly not-so-hot singles "Feeling So Good" and "Walking on Sunshine." The album also contains the new song "Alive," which will be featured in Lopez's upcoming movie Enough. As well as music and movies, Lopez also has plans to open a Cuban-themed nightclub in Pasadena, Calif. Her investment group, Mojo Restaurant LLC, plans to renovate a restaurant-bar that could be ready for business as early as April, the Associated Press reports.
Gwyneth Paltrow may have cut back on alcohol to suit her strict macrobiotic diet, but that hasn't stopped her from taking endorsement deals from liquor giant Martini & Rossi, at least according to msnbc.com's sources. While it is not uncommon for Hollywood celebs to appear in ads that won't be broadcast in America, Paltrow promoting a product she thinks is so unhealthy that she won't use it herself is hypocritical even by celebrities' standards, the source wails.
Meg Ryan is in negotiations to star in the erotic thriller In the Cut. According to Variety, the film tells the story of a New York writing teacher who lives to take chances by night. Nicole Kidman, who optioned the book out of her own pocket in 1996, will serve as the film's executive producer.
In his next film, Fighting Temptations, Cuba Gooding Jr. will star as a young hip-hop artist from L.A. who returns to his Southern hometown to discover he's in for a substantial inheritance. Gooding is also set to reprise his role in Snow Dogs 2, Variety reports.
Arnold Schwarzenegger told reporters Wednesday that Terminator 3: The Rise of the Machines will have a female Terminator. "The idea of the female terminator is great," he told reporters. "She will have control over machines and over anything mechanical, including myself. So you will sometimes see me as the villain and sometimes as a terminator that tried to save the world." Terminator 3 is slated for release in 2003.
As a promotion for his upcoming movie Mr. Deeds in which his character writes greeting cards as a hobby but keeps getting rejected by Hallmark, Adam Sandler has written and recorded nine Valentine's Day cards, available for free at greetings.yahoo.com. Sandler also plans to write and record messages for other holidays. The film, also starring Winona Ryder, is scheduled for release on June 28.
ABC will renew its hit police drama NYPD Blue for another season, Reuters reports. Although time changes and late season debuts have at times put the show's creator Steven Bochco and the network at odds, the decision to renew the show for a 10th season will make it one of the longest-running drama series in prime time TV.
Fox Broadcasting said it cannot immediately commit to ordering any additional episodes of the animated show Futurama. Because of the long lead time for animated projects, the show's executive producer Matt Groening needed a commitment this month for the 2003-04 season, Reuters reports. The network could still order episodes down the line, but that is unlikely.
Celebrities flocked to the runway shows to preview the fall 2002 collections during New York Fashion Week. AP reports that Derek Jeter, Rev. Al Sharpton, Kim Cattrall, Susan Sarandon, Angie Harmon and former New York Mayor David Dinkins have been spotted at the designer previews, which continue through Friday.
Accusations flew in Naomi Campbell's privacy trial on Wednesday, with Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan saying what the court had heard from the supermodel was two days of lying. The newspaper claims that Campbell was not entitled to the same privacy "as the normal man or woman in the street" and accused her of trying to put the best possible spin on the adverse publicity she was getting, Sky News reports.
Responding to recent comments in the news media indicating she was unhappy, Miss America Katie Harman said Wednesday that she loves her job and is 100 percent in support of the Miss America Organization, AP reports. Reports of trouble surfaced after her parents sent an eight-page letter to pageant officials, complaining that their daughter was upset over unexpected charges, lack of lucrative bookings and the rude treatment of her parents.
Will & Grace star Eric McCormack and his wife of five years, assistant director Janet Holden, are expecting their first child in July, People reports.
Johnny Depp and singer-actress Vanessa Paradis are awaiting their second child this summer. The couple has a 2-year-old daughter named Lily-Rose.
Today show weatherman Al Roker and his wife, 20/20 correspondent Deborah Roberts, are expecting their second child later this year. The couple has been married since 1994; they have a 3-year-old daughter named Leila.