Friday, October 26, 2012


Okay, Ben Affleck, I think I need to apologize to you.  I've been hard on you in years past, and I now see that was mostly unearned.  You actually are a talented director and probably a better actor than I could ever be.  So, officially, Planet Blue considers you forgiven for "Daredevil".  Just as in years past "Gone Baby Gone" forgave you for "Jersey Girl" and "The Town" was ample amnesty for "Gilgi".  However... you still have some work to do to be forgiven for "Surviving Christmas", "Joseph: King of Dreams", "Armageddon", and you will need to make about three great movies alone just to make up for "Pearl Harbor".  And really, your soul is still being judged by Anubis, because you made a Terry Malice movie this year.  Poor Brad Pitt's heart is already doomed to be devoured by Ammit, will yours be next?  Either way, "Argo" is a great movie, and the Gods will remember your heroic work here.

"Argo" is a movie that I simply could not help but see.  Ben Affleck could not have picked a more relevant topic and a better time to release his movie, as his subject matter is a great backdrop to the foreign policy issues of the latest Presidential Debate.  Catch this:  its about the roots of America's animosity with Iran, with its central focus being an attack on our Embassy.  Not even "South Park" is this relevant with the headlines of the day half the time.  But barring the almost stellar fortunes of the filmmakers, its plot was manufactured to appeal to me.  The idea here is that Ben Affleck is a CIA agent using an audacious plan to rescue six state department workers out of Iran who escaped just before the US embassy was captured by the Islamists.  That audacious plan?  Smuggle them out of the country by creating a cover story that they're a film crew looking for shooting locations for a 70s SciFi B-movie a la "Battle Beyond the Stars", "Krull", or "The Black Hole".  Get that?  "Star Wars" rip-offs are saving America!  I love it*!

Since Ben Affleck has worked his way up to becoming the darling of Hollywood's sophisticated Oscar-voting elite, expect "Argo" to be a very serious retelling of the events.  Ben Affleck as a director has mostly focused upon heavy dramas stories mainly about tortured competent men (played by either himself or his little brother Casey) working their way through a morally ambiguous world.  "Argo" is easily his most crowd-pleasing movie to date, going out of its way to focus on the American aspects of a international spy operation and it makes no bones about portraying the new Iranian government as plain evil.  That may not be the most enlightened view of current events, but whatever, it makes for a fun movie, and that's what I wanted.  If you want a lecture on modern Iran, read the Times, I'm here for a movie.

"Argo" opens with a literal blending of its two main themes in its opening credits, portraying a brief historical review of the events leading up to the Iranian Revolution as a series of story-boards and art designs, as if this were the preproduction of a documentary on the Revolution.  This is inter-spliced with actual images from the Revolution, probably to show that the events being described are actual history and not the plot of a space adventure.  Desert rebels overthrowing a villainous Emperor who represented thousands of years of monarchical power - a Padishah Emperor, no less?  The easier route for Affleck would have been to play "Argo" as a straight Good vs. Evil story, but he commendably insists that his audience understand the soon-to-be reprehensible actions by the Persian** people, even playing them as the heroes of another story.  However, Iran is unquestionably the villain in this movie, Affleck does not go so far as to blame the United States for the crisis, as some might.  That would have killed the movie for me and many others, so I'm glad for that.  But importantly, we're seeing film and history come together in a visual form, which is really "Argo"'s entire point.

The actual plot, as we should know by the trailers, involves the "Canadian Caper", an event during the Iran Hostage Crisis of Jimmy Carter's Presidency.  We see the beginning of this crisis in vivid detail as the Embassy is first surrounded by protesters, then violently stormed and overwhelmed.  Six embassy workers decide to flee their posts and hide out in the home of the Canadian Ambassador.  The remaining workers are held hostage by the new Islamist government as a political tool to show their independence from American hegemony and to demand the handover of their former leader, Shah Mohammad Rezi Pahlavi.  This leaves six people trapped in a nation full of very angry people who want revenge on the US for supporting the Shah's regime.  Eventually the Iranians are going to learn six workers are missing, and if they are found, they will be killed.  So the CIA working with the State Department and the Canadian Government needs to make up a cover story for why six "Canadians" would have flown into Iran so that they can leave right out of the airport safely home.

Unfortunately, with Iran in the midsts of a violent revolution and a reign of terror, why exactly would six people go there?  Nobody can create a plausible cover story.  So obviously, create an implausible one:  they're the film crew for a fake movie called "Argo", which is a space opera set in a desert Persian-esque world, meaning that Iran would be a great film location.  But for this cover to work, this means Ben Affleck will have to travel both into Iran and into the perhaps more dangerous world of Hollywood phonies and cynicism.

With "Argo" we get the fun humor of a shitty Hollywood B-movie production and the serious drama of a current events.  People dress up in funny costumes while angry Americans on the news demand war.  A worse movie would have suffered a severe tone problem and ended up accidentally making light of the actual serious nature of the events in Iran, or it would have turned into endless dull melodrama.  "Argo" walks the line beautifully, directly juxtaposing a Hollywood media stunt with Iranian demands and threats.  One character coins the catchphrase "Argo-fuckyerself" only seconds after several people are subjected to a mock execution.  The jaded Hollywood film producers give us the humor, the history gives us the drama.

The acting and cast in general are all good, with competent performances by everybody.  Alan Arkin is easily the show stealer as a bitter manipulative producer who swims perfectly in the bullshit underbelly of the film industry.  You got your Bryan Cranston, your John Goodman, a sudden cameo by Adrienne Barbeau, decent work all around.  If I had to point a single weakness in terms of characters, it would unfortunately be Ben Affleck himself.  As a lead, he doesn't really bring much to the movie other than a somber depression brought on by his recent martial problems and his estrangement from his son - this seems to be a recurring sympathetic backstory these days in drama films, by the way.  His acting is fine, of course, but isn't really the strong personality at the center this movie needed to become a masterpiece.  For the most part, I'm sorry to say, Ben Affleck is a wet blanket in his own film.  Here I was hoping that the CIA agent would be more of a black sheep slacker guy, the weird genius at the CIA who doesn't really fit in but gets the job done, as seen by his apparent inability to shave.  Instead he just looks so friggin' sad the whole time.

Luckily however, Ben Affleck's character does manage to sneak a production still of "Argo" out of the CIA archives to give to his son.  So now it can go right on his son's toy shelf, which is THE MOST AWESOME TOY SHELF ON EARTH.  This kid has got the original set of "Star Wars" Kenner toys, "Star Trek" figures, and original "Battlestar Galatica" cylons.  That shelf alone of props has to be worth a fortune.  And since I'm a huge nerd, I was salivating in my seat.

Of course, "Argo" is also a great period piece.  If you want to see 70s haircuts, the old Warner Bros logo, or remember the days when "Star Wars" ruled the universe, "Argo" is worth your time.  This was a time when America was rendered helpless by an act of terrorism, paralyzed by our need to protect American lives.  The events in this movie were the small success that our country needed back then.

If you haven't notice yet, I really enjoyed "Argo".  It was solid filmmaking all around, perhaps not quite so fun as I would have wanted, but still respectful to the material.  Take for instance, "Charlie Wilson's War", which was straight farse all the way, or its rival, "Munich" which was nothing but deadly serious violence from beginning to end.  All these movies are good movies, and they all view late 20th century events with different tones.  But I'd say, all those tones work, and "Argo" is a movie that should not be missed.  All the more so because it celebrates SciFi adventures.

However, still I would like somebody to actually make the fake movie "Argo" into a real movie.  It looked pretty incredible.  I love this kind of movie, not matter how bad the effects.  Here's some of Toho's "Message From Space", and try to tell me its not incredible.  This is why "John Carter of Mars" is easily one of my favorite movies of this year.  So somebody, please, make "Argo" real.

* I would have loved it a lot more if this film were released about six months ago when I was writing a research paper on Hollywood and its role in strengthening American cultural hegemony around the world.  I had no idea that there was such a literal case of Hollywood directly fighting for American international interests.

** Persia vs. Iran.  An interesting discussion in of itself.  As a history major, I prefer the name "Persia" because it connects the modern nation with thousands of years of history and civilization.  Its a nation as old as the Greeks.  "Iran" (AKA "Aryan") is the term preferred by the people of than nation, as its been the name they've called themselves for millenia, and it was only a few decades ago that scholars and politicians started using the native term.  I'm going to use the two terms interchangeably because I prefer a varied vocabulary, and also so that one can overcome the clear biases that come about with the word "Iran".  "Iran" is the place that Obama and Romney can look to with fear, "Persia" is a land with a history.


  1. These movies aren't made for you only. If you kept that in mind, maybe you'd enjoy them more.

    Argo sounds good, I'll have to check it out.

  2. John Carter of Mars was severely underrated. It had a walking city in it, people! What more does it need to get you to watch it?

  3. This is the kind of audacious movie I would seriously love to sweep at the Oscars. It won't, it'll get some recognition but something else depressing and self-important will win. I really want to see this movie, I'm so happy you enjoyed it Blue.

  4. One question: Why did'nt you like Daredevil? Me and my mom love it,

  5. Speaking of Star Wars...,0,3587016.story

    Looks like you were right.