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.
Widening the thematic scope without sacrificing too much of the claustrophobia that made the original 1979 Alien universally spooky Prometheus takes the trophy for this summer's most adult-oriented blockbuster entertainment. The movie will leave your mouth agape for its entire runtime first with its majestic exploration of an alien planet and conjectures on the origins of the human race second with its gross-out body horror that leaves no spilled gut to the imagination. Thin characters feel more like pawns in Scott's sci-fi prequel but stunning visuals shocking turns and grand questions more than make up for the shallow ensemble. "Epic" comes in many forms. Prometheus sports all of them.
Based on their discovery of a series of cave drawings all sharing a similar painted design Elizabeth (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green) are recruited by Weyland to head a mission to another planet one they believe holds the answers to the creation of life on Earth. Along for the journey are Vickers (Charlize Theron) the ruthless Weyland proxy Janek (Idris Elba) a blue collar captain a slew of faceless scientists and David (Michael Fassbender) HAL 9000-esque resident android who awakens the crew of spaceship Prometheus when they arrive to their destination. Immediately upon descent there's a discovery: a giant mound that's anything but natural. The crew immediately prepares to scope out the scene zipping up high-tech spacesuits jumping in futuristic humvees and heading out to the site. What they discover are the awe-inspiring creations of another race. What they bring back to the ship is what they realize may kill their own.
The first half of Prometheus could be easily mistaken for Steven Spielberg's Alien a sense of wonder glowing from every frame not too unlike Close Encounters. Scott takes full advantage of his fictional settings and imbues them with a reality that makes them even more tantalizing. He shoots the vistas of space and the alien planet like National Geographic porn and savors the interior moments on board the Prometheus full of hologram maps sleeping pods and do-it-yourself surgery modules with the same attention. Prometheus is beautiful shot in immersive 3D that never dampers Dariusz Wolski's sharp photography. Scott's direction seems less interested in the run-or-die scenario set up in the latter half of the film but the film maintains tension and mood from beginning to end. It all just gets a bit…bloodier.
Jon Spaihts' and Damon Lindelof's script doesn't do the performers any favors shuffling them to and fro between the ship and the alien construction without much room for development. Reveals are shoehorned in without much setup (one involving Theron's Vickers that's shockingly mishandled) but for the most part the ensemble is ready to chomp into the script's bigger picture conceits. Rapace is a physical performer capable of pulling off a grisly scene involving an alien some sharp objects and a painful procedure (sure to be the scene of the blockbuster season. Among the rest of the crew Fassbender's David stands out as the film's revelatory performance delivering a digestible ambiguity to his mechanical man that playfully toys with expectations from his first entrance. The creature effects in Prometheus will wow you but even Fassbender's smallest gesture can send the mind spinning. The power of his smile packs more of a punch than any facehugger.
Much like Lindelof's Lost Prometheus aims to explore the idea of asking questions and seeking answers and on Scott's scale it's a tremendous unexpected ride. A few ideas introduced to spur action fall to the way side in the logic department but with a clear mission and end point Prometheus works as a sweeping sci-fi that doesn't require choppy editing or endless explosions to keep us on the edge of our seats. Prometheus isn't too far off from the Alien xenomorphs: born from existing DNA of another creature the movie breaks out as its own beast. And it's wilder than ever.
Top Story: Grace Under Fire Creator Sues Show
Grace Under Fire creator Chuck Lorre sued production company Carsey-Werner-Mandabach Tuesday, claiming he was underpaid for his work on the ABC sitcom. The comedy, which focused on the "trailer trash" life of former standup comedian Brett Butler, aired from 1993 to 1998. According to the Los Angeles Superior Court suit, Lorre, who served as executive producer for the first season, lost millions of dollars because of payments made to cast and crew members who were sexually harassed and verbally abused by Butler. Although the lawsuit did not offer details of the alleged harassment and abuse but claims Lorre claims Carsey-Werner settled them by paying "substantial" settlements to those who complained. Butler's manager, Mark Burg, disputed the allegations against the actress and said she is still friends with people who worked on the show, Reuters reports.
Jack Osbourne Doing Well in Rehab
In an interview with US Weekly magazine, Kelly Osbourne said her brother Jack is in "good spirits" after admitting himself into a drug and alcohol rehabilitation clinic last week. Kelly said she and her family had had no idea how serious her 17-year-old brother's problems were before he checked into the clinic on April 23. "He's doing very well and we're all very proud of him," she told the magazine. "He's in really good spirits."
Tom Arnold Sued for Sexual Harassment
Tom Arnold, former NBA player John Salley, and others involved with Fox Sports Network's Best Damn Sports Show Period are being sued for sexual harassment by a show hairstylist, the AP reports. Lisa Brescher's lawsuit alleged that Arnold and Salley made unwelcome sexual advances towards her. Brescher, 29, claims Arnold took her off her "lucrative Sunday shift" when she filed a sexual harassment complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
T2 Goes High Definition
Artisan Entertainment and Microsoft Corp. unveiled Monday T2: Extreme DVD--the first DVD to be released especially for digital high-definition computer and television monitors. Reuters reports the two-disc DVD contains a standard DVD of Terminator 2: Judgment Day and a second that contains a high-definition version of the film to be played on a computer DVD-ROM drive and high-end monitors. The two-disc set hits stores on June 3.
Treasure Planet Finds Riches on Home Video
The home video debut of Disney's animated feature Treasure Planet sold more than 1 million VHS and DVD units on its first day in release. One major retailer who asked not to be identified told The Hollywood Reporter he believes Treasure Planet is likely to exceed its nearly $40 million domestic box office gross within the first week of release. The film, which cost a reported $140 to make, was a high-profile bust last year in theaters.
Madonna's America Life No. 1
Madonna's new album, American Life, opened at No. 1 on this week's Billboard charts. According to Nielsen SoundScan, the album sold 241,000 units its first week in stores--a respectable amount but still far below the 420,000 units her last release, Music, sold three years ago. Rapper 50 Cent came in at No. 2 with Get Rich or Die Tryin', followed by Kelly Clarkson, who slipped to No. 3 with her debut album, Thankful.
Berry Makes "Beautiful People" List
X2: X-Men United star Halle Berry made People magazine's annual list of the "50 Most Beautiful People in the World"-- for the seventh time. Also appearing in this year's issue are celebs Julia Roberts, Ben Affleck, Jennifer Lopez, twins Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, Ryan Seacrest, singers Norah Jones and Usher, and basketball player Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs. The issue hits newsstands Friday.
Role Call: Ben and Jen May Play Boston Sleuths, Turturro Joins Latest King Adaptation
Alan Ladd, who is currently producing An Unfinished Life starring Jennifer Lopez, told Variety the singer/actress may co-star with Ben Affleck in his next project, Gone, Baby, Gone for Paramount. Affleck is writing the script for the pic, in which he will also star and possibly direct. The pic revolves around two Boston private eyes who investigate a series of mysteries. Ladd said J.Lo would play Affleck's partner ... John Turturro is set to star opposite Johnny Depp in Columbia Pictures' Secret Window, Secret Garden for writer/director David Koepp. The pic is a thriller based on a Stephen King novella about a psychotic stranger stalking a writer he claims stole his story but changed the ending. Maria Bello, Timothy Hutton and Ving Rhames are in negotiations to join the cast.