Saturday, 27 October 2012

Film Review: "Argo" (2012)

"Okay, you got 6 people hiding out in a town of what, 4 million people, all of whom chant "death to America" all the livelong day. You want to set up a movie in a week. You want to lie to Hollywood, a town where everybody lies for a living. Then you're gonna sneak 007 over here into a country that wants CIA blood on their breakfast cereal, and you're gonna walk the Brady Bunch out of the most watched city in the world." This is the premise of this declassified story of Argo. This thriller film starring and directed by Ben Affleck. The movie is based loosely on former Central Intelligence Agency operative Tony Mendez's historical account of the rescue of six U.S. diplomats from Tehran, Iran during the 1979 Iran Hostage Crisis. The film is about the dramatization of the 1980 joint CIA-Canadian secret operation to extract six fugitive American diplomatic personnel out of revolutionary Iran.

Due to the revolutionary overthrow of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran due to his absolute monarch rule over the country. This brought the country economic, cultural and political issues which then united opposition against the Shah and led to his overthrow. Now diagnosed with cancer, the Shah then took political asylum in the United States. Outraged the Muslim Student Followers of the Imam's Line demanded that the Shah return to Iran for trial and execution. The U.S. maintained that the Shah, who died less than a year later in July 1980, had come to America only for medical attention. The group's other demands included that the U.S. government apologize for its interference in the internal affairs of Iran, for the overthrow of Prime Minister Mossadeq (in 1953), and that Iran's frozen assets in the U.S. be released. The initial takeover plan was to hold the embassy for only a short time, but this changed after it became apparent how popular the takeover was and that Khomeini had given it his full support. Some attribute the Iranian decision not to release the hostages quickly to U.S. President Jimmy Carter's "blinking" or failure to immediately deliver an ultimatum to Iran. His immediate response was to appeal for the release of the hostages on humanitarian grounds and to share his hopes of a strategic anti-communist alliance with the Islamic Republic. As some of the student leaders had hoped, Iran's moderate Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan and his cabinet resigned under pressure just days after the event. On the day the hostages were seized, six American diplomats, Robert Anders, Cora Amburn-Lijek, Mark Lijek, Joseph Stafford, Kathleen Stafford and Lee Schatz, evaded capture and remained in hiding at the Swedish and Italian embassies. In 1979, the Canadian Parliament held a secret session for the first time since World War II in order to pass special legislation allowing Canadian passports to be issued to some American citizens so that they could escape. In cooperation with the Central Intelligence Agency who used the cover story of a film project, the six American diplomats boarded a flight to Zürich, Switzerland, on January 28, 1980. Their escape and rescue from Iran by Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor has come to be known as the "Canadian Caper". The CIA enlisted its disguise and exfiltration expert, Tony Mendez, to provide a cover story, documents, appropriate clothing, and materials to change their appearance. Mendez worked closely with Canadian government staff in Ottawa, who forwarded the passports and other supporting material to the Canadian embassy through a Canadian diplomatic courier. Mendez then flew to Tehran with an associate to assist with the rescue. There were alternate passports and identities for a variety of scenarios, but the cover story selected had the six being a Hollywood crew scouting movie locations. The elaborate back-story involved a film named Argo, for a Middle-Eastern feel, and a functioning office in Hollywood set up with the help of John Chambers, a veteran Hollywood make-up artist. The script used had been based on the science fiction novel Lord of Light. The six were told that telephone calls to the "Studio Six" office in Los Angeles would be answered. Display ads for the "Studio Six" production were placed in Hollywood publications and Cora Lijek carried one paper as part of her cover materials. (The movie scenario was considered one way to get an armed team into Tehran to retake the embassy.)

The film stars Affleck as CIA specialist Tony Mendez with Bryan Cranston as CIA supervisor Jack O'Donnell, Alan Arkin as film producer Lester Siegel, and John Goodman as legendary make-up artist John Chambers. The cast gave strong performances. Affleck was interesting as the film's central protagonist Tony Mendez but I thought it was unusual or inaccurate to think that the actual figure was Latin American where as Affleck is an American with English, Irish, Scottish, and German ancestry. But the performance overall was brilliant. Alan Arkin as Lester Siegel was comical as always, going back to earlier films such as Little Miss Sunshine (2006) and Get Smart (2008). Finally John Goodman as legendary make-up artist John Chambers was fascinating and enjoyable as his performance brought a side to the figure that I myself never knew about. The rest of the cast were all superb and intense and deserve merits in their own ways.

Tense, smartly written, and wonderfully cast, Argo proves that Ben Affleck is a director to be reckoned with. Ben Affleck proves his directing credentials in this gripping dramatic thriller, drawing strong performances from the excellent cast and bringing this untold story to the screen. The film’s intense action scenes convey an ideal balance between kineticism and clarity aided by Rodrigo Prieto’s cinematography and William Goldenberg’s editing.

Simon says Argo receives:

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Film Review: "Killing Them Softly" (2012).

"In America you're on your own" in Killing Them Softly. This neo-noir crime film adapted and directed by Andrew Dominik, and based on George V. Higgins' novel Cogan's Trade (1974). When three men rob a card game run by Markie Trattman, he vows to get his money back and calls Jackie, a professional enforcer, to investigate the case.

In November 2010, the project was first announced, with the original title Cogan's Trade, when Brad Pitt was reported to be in talks to star in it. Pitt was approached by Dominik to star as Jackie Cogan. Production was scheduled to begin in Louisiana in March 2011, with pre-production beginning in January. By late February, Sam Shepard, Ray Liotta, Richard Jenkins, James Gandolfini, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, Vincent Curatola, and Max Casella rounded out the film's cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and took place throughout New Orleans, Louisiana. The film was shot on film and was the first to shoot on Kodak's 500T 5230 film stock.

The film stars Pitt, Shepard, Liotta, Jenkins, Gandolfini, McNairy, Mendelsohn, Curatola, and Casella. Thanks to the performances given by the cast, this is the kind of picture that isn't afraid to put its characters under a microscope, and it knows that studying their psychology is far more rewarding than studying their gun-slinging skills.

On the strength of its two lead performances Killing Them Softly is an expertly crafted period piece, and an insightful look at one of the enduring figures of American lore. Stunning visuals, award-worthy performances, and a script that takes incredibly rewarding risks, the film is a masterpiece and one of the best films of the year. If I were inclined to wheel out clichés like 'Oscar-worthy', I'd certainly wheel them out in support of this movie, on several counts. Impeccably shot, cast and directed, this is a truly impressive film from Dominik. But suffers from an unfortunate case of elephantiasis. Dominik seems so in love with his languorous pacing, he's incapable of cutting the five or ten seconds in any number of scenes that could have given the film a more manageable running time. In the scheme of things, however, this amounts to little more than a quibble. Imperfect, beautiful, overloaded and redundant, it is one of those films that will still be remembered and analyzed in ten years. The film is an engrossing and hypnotic neo-noir crime film that places a heavy emphasis on atmosphere, character and reality. Dominik takes his time with the story, but his languorous pacing allows tension to build -- and permits the actors, Affleck in particular, to add nuance and depth to characters who'll seem familiar only at first glance. Even though the film looks beautiful there are things that rubbed me the wrong way. The film is a throwback to another time when films were allowed to be unhurried, when audiences trusted multiple story lines to converge
organically, and time and place were evoked with consummate craft.

Simon says Killing Them Softly receives:

Film Review: "Safety Not Guaranteed" (2012).

"Wanted: Someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You'll get paid when we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before." 
Which is what Safety Not Guaranteed is all about. This comedy film directed by Colin Trevorrow; written by Derek Connolly; inspired by a 1997 Backwoods Home Magazine classified ad - itself written as a joke filler by Backwoods employee John Silver - by a person asking for someone to accompany him in time travel. The film follows three magazine employees as they head out on an assignment to interview a guy who placed a classified advertisement seeking a companion for time travel.

The original classified ad upon which the film is based first appeared in Backwoods Home Magazine in 1997. It was written as last-minute filler by John Silveira, an employee of the magazine, who is credited in the film as "Time Travel Consultant" and also has a cameo. The ad was later featured on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno (1992) in the "Headlines" segment, and eventually turned into an Internet meme before being developed into a screenplay. On a remarkable budget of $750,000, the film was shot in Seattle and Ocean Shores, Washington, and other locations within 30 miles of Seattle. It is also partially set in Seattle. The film was shot with a Sony F3 camera using old Panavision lenses, which gave the film a desired "Hal Ashby look" for director Colin Trevorrow.

The film stars Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, Jake Johnson and Karan Soni. The cast gave fantastically witty and emotionally dramatic performances. With each cast member displaying their own unique witty and emotional flair and depth. As you genuinely feel emotionally invested in each character as they go through their own personal journeys.

Safety Not Guaranteed is a heady blend of time travel, romantic comedy, and human emotion. Like a time portal, the film creates a whole new world of stories and possibilities for film, and stands as one of the most exceptional movies of 2012. The skill, the guile and the humanness to turn a ridiculous, outlandish gimmick into a dense and emotional piece makes it the freshest thing the cinematic world has seen since Reservoir Dogs (1992). The film has an impressive feel for the odd, quiet rhythms of small-scale story-telling and little time-travel. The movie never looks cheap, because every shot looks as it must look. But the homemade feel is part of the point. Expertly shot and acted, the film gives the audience a simple plot and then piles on layers of drama, twists, and emotion before pulling out the rug from underneath. Interesting, funny, emotional and exciting, it could take you to a deeply emotional place lying dormant in your soul.

Simon says Safety Not Guaranteed receives:

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Film Review: "The Thieves" ("도둑들") (2012).

"All for the money. One for the revenge. Every man for himself." This is The Thieves (도둑들). This South Korean heist film directed by Choi Dong-hoon, and written by Choi and Lee Ki-cheol. Popie, the brain and muscle, Pepsee, an expert safecracker, Yenicall, the wall climber, Zampano, the strategy head, and Chewingum, the master of disguise, decide to rob a $20 million diamond.

Since late 2010, Casting negotiations began, and, in late March 2011, Showbox announced the star-studded cast in a press release. The cast included Kim Yoon-seok, Kim Hye-soo, Lee Jung-jae, Jun Ji-hyun, Simon Yam, Kim Hae-sook, Oh Dal-su, Kim Soo-hyun, Angelica Lee, and Derek Tsang. Choi commented: "These are the very actors that inspired me to write what I have for the movie's script starting from its first line. I'm dreaming of creating explosive ensembles that will clash or harmonize within a single movie due to their different styles." Choi later confessed that the thought of directing this group of high-profile actors and actresses was "really scary", but "during filming, I couldn't take my eyes off the monitor because of the charisma of all these actors. Never did it occur to me that they needed to be handled in a certain way. It's just that the screenplay must be fully understood... We talk. Slowly infect them with my thoughts, mixing the individual with the movie's tone and manner." On comparisons with Ocean's Eleven (2001), Choi said he never went into production consciously thinking about the hit Hollywood film. Though similar to it, he thinks the film is actually closer to his previous films The Big Swindle (2004) and Tazza: The High Rollers (2006), with the action featured "invested with more emotion." Kim Yoon-seok added that contrary to the characters' compatible and harmonious collaboration in Ocean's Eleven, "In The Thieves, we are all over the place, all with our own faults. But I think that you will see through the friendships and love in the film, our unique emotional developments will show through." Principal photography took place in Seoul, Busan, Macau, and Hong Kong.

The film stars Kim Yoon-seok, Kim Hye-soo, Lee Jung-jae, Jun Ji-hyun, Simon Yam, Kim Hae-sook, Oh Dal-su, Kim Soo-hyun, Angelica Lee, and Derek Tsang. The cast gave terrific performances that the crime itself less important than the post-heist cheating in enjoyable, character-based yarn about a bunch of grifters that provides meaty roles for its whole cast plus a couple of neat twists prior to the final act.

The Thieves maintains its tone of madcap rambunctiousness, while allowing its thieves to be, or at least to become, true Korean patriots with a grand political cause and an East-meets-West sensibility (the latter shared with the film itself). The fourth directorial effort by writer-director Choi Dong-hun makes a pic more for Asian-centered fests, though basic story, carefully cast, could have remake potential. As strands of storyline feverishly tie themselves up through twists and coincidences, the double and triple crosses fade in impact next to the poise of Choi's all-star cast.

Simon says The Thieves (도둑들) receives:

Piano Concert 2012 Part 2

Also, see Part 1.