About This Blog

A place to find my reviews not featured on epinions.com or horror-asylum.com, as well as opinions and lists on everything from movies to TV to music. It's all about me! Send hate mail to vegie18th@hotmail.com or just leave a comment beneath the posts. Review grading system assumes C+ is somewhere in the vicinity of a Passing grade or minor fail.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Review: Argo


Set in 1979, when an American embassy in Tehran was stormed by Iranians, but six embassy officials (Clea DuVall, Tate Donovan, Rory Cochrane, and Scoot McNairy among them) managed to escape and were housed in the home of the Canadian ambassador (Victor Garber). The CIA are tasked with the mission of getting them out of harm’s way, and CIA man Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) comes up with the most cockamamie way of getting them out; Pretending that the six are a Canadian film crew scouting locations for a sci-fi epic called “Argo”! To make the ruse more convincing, he hires real-life Oscar-winning makeup man John Chambers (played by John Goodman) and producer Lester Siegel (a composite character played by Alan Arkin). Well, that sounds like a can’t fail plan, right? Actually, it sounds completely insane. Bryan Cranston plays Mendez’s CIA boss, and Michael Parks plays storyboard artist (and co-creator of comic book characters like Iron Man and The Hulk) Jack Kirby.

 

Director-star Ben Affleck (who made a helluva directorial debut with “Gone Baby Gone”) makes up for his somewhat disappointingly safe and clich├ęd “The Town” with this extraordinary ‘true story’ tale from 2012, set in the late 70s. Engrossing from start to finish, it’s probably Affleck’s best film to date as director (sad that he wasn’t even nominated for Best Director, but winning the Best Picture Oscar probably made up for it a bit), albeit a bit generous towards the Carter administration for some people’s liking. Debate continues as to whether Carter was a hero or a blunderer here, or whether Reagan was a hero or a manipulative opportunist, and it seems to depend on your own political bias as to who or what you believe, so I won’t even offer any opinions on that, as a non-American born in 1980. I have no idea how accurate it is to the truth (although I have heard that the film beefs up the American intervention to the downgrading of the supposedly more important Canadian involvement), all I know is that this is fascinating, completely bizarre stuff.

 

In some ways it harkens back to films of the 70s, having a docudrama or Altman-esque feel to it, maybe even “All the President’s Men” (which indeed Affleck was supposedly influenced by). And yet, for a film that echoes movies of the 70s (right down to the red, black and white Warner Brothers logo designed by the great Saul Bass) about events from the late 70s and early 80s, this sure feels real and modern (The kind of thing you might expect George Clooney to direct). There’s a good usage of TV news footage too, and you’ll recognise practically all of the TV anchors, even if you’re a non-American like me.

 

Ben Affleck himself is rock-solid (and boy is there some spectacular facial hair in this film), and Scoot McNairy seemed to have a terrific year in 2012 with solid roles in this and “Killing Them Softly”. More entertaining, however, are the turns by John Goodman, Alan Arkin, and Bryan Cranston. Cranston, in particular is really good at the war room ‘talking heads’-type stuff, alongside Zjelko Ivanek and Affleck’s favourite actor Titus Welliver. Cranston is a damn fine actor in the right role, he was great on “Malcolm in the Middle”, a show people tend to forget now that everyone seems to love “Breaking Bad”. Goodman doesn’t get a lot of scenes, but he truly is the icing on the cake, as John Chambers the makeup man responsible for the still interesting makeup for the 1968 “Planet of the Apes”. I had no idea that Chambers was involved in this real-life event prior to the film being made. You really can’t make this stuff up, folks. Once Chambers turns up, the film really takes off, but then Alan Arkin turns up and you just feel all warm and happy inside. Honestly, Arkin has done all of his best work in the last 15 years or so and he gets some great dialogue here (‘You’re worried about the Ayatollah? Try the WGA!’). Cranston probably has my favourite line in the entire film, however; ‘This is the best bad idea we have, sir. By far’. I really hope that line is true, because it’s hilarious. In a film that seems to contain just about every working American or Canadian actor/actress, look out for former John Carpenter muse Adrienne Barbeau as a sci-fi actress, Michael Parks interestingly cast as a storyboard artist, and in a casting decision presumably suggested by Mrs. Affleck, Canadian character actor Victor Garber as the Canadian ambassador.

 

It may not be the most factually accurate account of the story (apparently the rescue was fairly mundane in reality), but all I really care about is that this is highly entertaining stuff, and one of the ten best films of the year. I must admit though, I kinda wanna see the space opera “Argo” get made now. The screenplay by Chris Terrio is based on a magazine article by Joshuah Bearman and a book by the real Antonio (Tony) Mendez.

 

Rating: B

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Review: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World


An asteroid is headed for Earth in about 20 days, and there’s nothing anyone can do. It’s the end of the world. People all around are rioting, freaking out, committing suicide, or just giving into every temptation they have thus far suppressed. Hey, if the world’s gonna end, why not? Steve Carell plays an insurance agent, whose wife takes this particular point in life to walk out on him (Amusingly, she’s played by the real-life Mrs. Carell!). Keira Knightley is his British neighbour, who, save for dickhead boyfriend Adam Brody, is all alone, having missed her flight back home to see her family. And there will never be another flight ever again. So she turns up at Carell’s door one night and they get to talking. Carell’s interest is piqued by a letter from an old girlfriend that he has only now just gotten. She says he was the love of his life. Riotous behaviour in the city forces Carell and Knightley to flee their apartment building. It is then that Carell offers Knightley a deal; If she helps him find ‘the one that got away’, he knows someone with a plane who can fly her back home. And so the last ever road trip begins. Patton Oswalt is a drunken loser (and plays one in the film), Connie Britton and Rob Corddry play friends of Carell who aren’t coping with the impending apocalypse, Melanie Lynskey plays a potential love interest for Carell, William Petersen plays a paranoid trucker, Derek Luke plays a survivalist ex of Knightley’s, and in a moving cameo, Martin Sheen turns up as Carell’s estranged father.

 

Well here was a really pleasant surprise. I think I must’ve liked this 2012 film from writer/director Lorene Scafaria (in her directorial debut after writing “Nick and Nora’s Far Too Long And Self-Consciously Quirky Movie Title”) a great deal more than most people. I certainly wasn’t expecting much going in, but this is a terrific movie; Funny, sad, interesting, moving, and also a believable apocalyptic scenario as well. The ending is especially beautiful, right down to the final frame. Like the also excellent “Safety Not Guaranteed” from the same year, this one is more of a romantic/character piece with a sci-fi bent and a title derived from a newspaper ad headline (albeit fictional in this case). It starts out as truly morbidly funny, with Carell given the most hilariously awful job for an apocalyptic scenario: insurance. How scared is this guy of facing Armageddon alone? He tries to convince the cleaning lady to hang out with him! The laughs are still there throughout, whether it’s Adam Brody as a douchebag who uses Keira Knightley as a human shield (funny for several reasons), or William Petersen in a very funny role as a trucker Carell suspects of being a serial killer. TJ Miller is an absolute scream as an overly friendly waiter at a restaurant aptly named ‘Friendsys’. It’s the creepiest place on Earth. Actually, if hot chicks kiss you on your birthday, then I wanna go there. Why isn’t this restaurant more well-known, damn it? But it also came off as realistic (if slightly warped in its sense of humour) to me, with everything just slowly shutting down and everyone getting panicky and/or depressed. Some will even kill themselves, some will simply cease to give a fuck about rules, regulations, morality, and social conventions. That’s how I would imagine it happening. Looting in the streets? It only takes a blackout for that kind of shit to happen in the present! Meanwhile, here’s the one situation where I think we’d all turn into the ‘we all gonna die!’ guy.

 

Steve Carell’s understated work here will probably be overlooked. It shouldn’t. Sure, he and Knightley seem an odd match, but it’s the end of the world, and maybe Carell’s cashing in his ‘if you were the last man on Earth’ credits. I know I’m hanging on to mine, that’s for sure. No one wants to die alone (Then again, if everyone is dying at the same time, are you really dying alone? Corddry makes that point himself in the film). After the underrated “London Boulevard” and now this, I’m rediscovering my love for Keira Knightley. She has such charisma, fragile beauty, and a lovely presence on screen. This, along with Carell’s innate decency make these two characters easy to go along with, which I think is a very important thing in a film.

 

I think this film has been somewhat underrated, and certainly far too unseen. It works on multiple levels, and unlike many apocalyptic films, it’s a smaller, more humanistic take on the subject. It even makes you think and reflect on your own life and how you would handle such a situation yourself. Terrible title, though. 

 

Rating: B