I got your thematic link right here, pal. Today, we have two Best Picture nominees, two films detailing CIA operations and two films that are based on a true story (even if that claim should be taken with a grain of salt). And yes, they are the same films. These are two of the most critically acclaimed films of the year, though the opinions here on Film Geek Central have been mixed. So, what did I think of them? Well, that’s why you’re here, right?
DAY 19: JANUARY 31, 2013
ARGO (2012) – first viewing – In 1979, the Ayatollah Komenei took over Iran in a coup against the U.S. Sponsored Shah. Iranians stormed the U.S. Embassy and took dozens of Americans hostage. In the chaos, six Americans managed to escape and took refuse in the Canadian ambassador’s home. But it’s only a matter of time before these six people are discovered and killed. They need to get out of the country, and fast.
CIA operative Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck, who also directs) comes up with an outlandish plan, the best idea when only bad ideas are available. He will help create a fake science fiction movie, complete with WGA option, Variety write-ups, producers and a script. With the help of makeup artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and Lester Siegel (a composite character played by Alan Arkin), they set out to make the ruse as convincing as possible. They even have the legendary Jack Kirby draw the storyboards. The rest of the film details how they try to keep up the facade, even as the higher-ups start to lose faith in the mission.
Affleck has directed two films before. The very good GONE BABY GONE and THE TOWN, which was good but hinged on what I saw as an improbable plot point. With ARGO, he proves to anyone dumb enough to doubt that he is a talent to be reckoned with. All the people who made fun of him, saying he couldn’t have had a part in the GOOD WILL HUNTING screenplay have been made to look foolish over recent years, thanks to Affleck’s stunning work behind the camera. Affleck’s direction here is absolutely stunning. His performance and fluid, lively direction keeps this from becoming just another quirky thriller. He has created a film which works as a drama, history lesson and taut thriller. It’s an astonishing achievement, certainly the best film nominated for Best Picture this year (and that’s saying something considering how much I love SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK). This film should not be missed. Thanks to the other fine people – the American Film Institute (AFI), British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), Directors Guild of America (DGA), National Board of Review, the Golden Globes and all the film critic’s circles – for acknowledging the talent that made this film work so well. Shame on you, Academy, for not nominating Affleck for Best Director. This is less of an oversight and reeks instead of 20th century thinking. In short, Argo fuck yourself! ★★★★ (out of ★★★★)
ZERO DARK THIRTY (2012) – first viewing – This film details ten years in the hunt for Osama Bin Laden. The main focus is on Maya (Jessica Chastain), a driven CIA operative who never falters from her task. Hmmm, now that I look at it, I suppose that’s the whole plot, isn’t it? Which is not to say the film is simple at all. Throughout the years, she chases down dead ends and watches personnel shift as she just keeps on keeping on.
What we have here is a film involving terrorists, CIA operatives and military strikes. Yet, in a reversal from the macho posturing in the past, this time the success of the film hinges on two women – Jessica Chastain and Kathryn Bigelow. Chastain is a powerhouse in the lead. Professional, strong but completely believable. Bigelow once again shows why she’s been one of my favorite directors since 1987’s NEAR DARK. This film isn’t as good as some of her other films, including the absolutely stunning THE HURT LOCKER. However, those problems are not Bigelow’s, at least not in terms of how she frames the scenes.
No, the problems here seem to be some of the scenes themselves. A common danger with material such as this is that it can come out a bit flat. And sorry, Mark Boal, but your script does come off a bit flat this time. Without Chastain, it would have been just another procedural. Also, we’re led to believe that everything was an ongoing process and very little reference is made to how the events in Washington D.C. are effecting them in the field. Every now and then, we hear see about something like the Times Square bomber but for the most part, we stay with this core group. To insulate us from the outside is a wise choice, but this group was not insulated from what was going on outside and it isn’t plausible that these things would not be effecting them. One character mentions how the Guantanamo Bay scandal screwed them over. How? What about when President Bush publicly stated that he didn’t know where Bin Laden was and he didn’t spend much time thinking about it? Or when he shut down the CIA unit charged with hunting Bin Laden? I was confused when I didn’t see this happen, or any reference given to how it effected people in the field. Likewise, when Obama took office, some questionable things, both good and bad would have had an impact on Maya and her team. But we never hear about any of it. Not that every film – or even any film – claiming to be “based on a true story” is truly that accurate. But still, this is recent history and this seemed like a strange omission and even a missed opportunity for added drama.
Speaking of accuracy, there has been some question over this very question in relation to ZERO DARK THIRTY. The film claims to be based on the first-hand accounts of several people involved, while several others in the CIA and Congress have begged to differ. Maybe it’s true, maybe it isn’t. Since the first hour of the film involves nonstop torture, I actually pray it isn’t true. None of this is a commentary on the quality of the actual film understand. But every time I hear someone say, “this is a true story” while holding up A BEAUTIFUL MIND, THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS or even war films like BATTLE OF THE BULGE, one word comes to mind. And that word is, “sucker.” ★★★ (out of ★★★★)
PORKY’S REVENGE (1985) – first viewing – The final installment in the PORKY’s trilogy finds the kids from Angel Beach High about to graduate. But they also have to deal with the re-emergence of local crime boss Porky, out to rig the State Championship basketball game and then strong-arm one of the group into joining the Porky’s empire. And yes, lots of pranks and tits throughout this one. Howard Stern has been threatening to remake PORKY’S for several years now. Let’s all say a silent prayer that this never happens.
THE WILD DUCK (1984) – first viewing – In Australia of the early 1900s, an idealist son comes home to find he is still disgusted by his manipulative businessman of a father. He takes a room in the home of his old friend (Jeremy Irons), who has become a materialistic cog in his father’s machine. He upsets this stable world by exposing a scandal in the past with the naïve intent of bringing honesty into the household. Unfortunately, since this is based on a Henrik Ibsen play, things are bound to end badly.
These will be covered on FILM GEEK CENTRAL PRESENTS: THE FILMS OF 1985. This is our podcast in which we cover EVERY film released in 1985 on its corresponding weekend in 2013. Three episodes in the can so far with the fourth premiering tonight! If you want to check out our previous eps or see what we have in store on the podcast, click here and see your life changed.
Total films watched in 2013 so far: 60
My soundtrack for January 31, 2013: “Have you heard of a time that will help us get it together again? Have you heard of the word that will stop us going wrong?”