Mariah, Minaj and Vampires Reach Ratings Success: Looks like that catty new judging panel is working! The second night of the American Idol Season 12 premiere dropped only 2 percent: Good news, considering 19 percent of viewers changed their minds after night one last year. Meanwhile, The CW has something to celebrate today, as The Vampire Diaries beat NBC's 30 Rock and 1600 Penn in its demo. [EW]
More Laughs on the Peacock: NBC has officially greenlit three comedy pilots — one from The Office vet Greg Daniels, another from Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, then a sperm donor comedy called Donor Party from relative unknowns Alex Schemmer and Geyer Kosinski. All three shows are single camera and sound relatively quirky, which (hopefully) means that NBC is going with smart over broad this year. (Here's looking at you, Guys With Kids.) [Deadline]
Ben and Kate... and Jesse: In addition to his recurring role on the new season of Army Wives, Jesse McCartney is set to guest star in a February episode of Fox's breakout comedy Ben and Kate. In the episode, Kate returns to college and shares a class with BJ who tries to get her to let loose and have fun, but Kate is determined to focus on her studies this time around. But that might be a little difficult with Jesse (McCartney), a hot fellow student, trying to get Kate's attention and eventually asking her out. His episode is slated to air Tuesday Feb. 26. [E!]
Arrow Beauty Heads to Dracula's Lair: NBC confirmed on Friday that Arrow’s Jessica De Gouw will play the female character Mina in the upcoming series Dracula, which stars Jonathan Rhys Meyers. Dracula has been described by NBC as a "provocative" version of Bram Stoker's classic, set in 1896. The 10-episode series begins when Dracula arrives in London, pretending to be an American entrepreneur, who claims he is trying to bring modern science to Victorian society. His real goal is to enact revenge on people he believes have wronged him. Dracula's one problem with revenge occurs when he falls in love with a woman (De Gouw), who appears to be a reincarnation of his dead wife. [Yahoo News]
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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.