Ben Affleck takes a major step forward as a director with his tense period piece political thriller “Argo.”
The film is set amid the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis and tells one of those stories that makes you think of the adage about truth being stranger than fiction.
Six workers at the U.S. embassy in Iran flee after 52 of their co-workers are taken hostage, which led to a standoff that lasted for 444 days, and find refuge at the home of the Canadian ambassador.
A CIA exfiltration specialist named Tony Mendez (Affleck) comes up with a plan to pose as a Canadian film crew scouting locations for a low budget science fiction film and help smuggle the six embassy workers out of Iran.
He enlists the help of his CIA boss (Bryan Cranston) as well as a Hollywood makeup artist (John Goodman) and producer (Alan Arkin) to help create the fake production company.
The film’s extremely intense second half details Mendez’s attempts to obtain permits from Iran’s cultural office and devise the plan to help the six escape.
While the picture is based on a true story, some liberties have obviously been taken – I doubt the chase that ensues on the runway of an airport actually occurred and a sequence during which Mendez and crew are questioned by airport officials was likely added to increase the suspense.
Regardless, these scenes work as does the rest of the film, which manages to jangle the nerves throughout the course of its entire two hours.
The film also looks great, blending archival footage with a grainy 1970s-style of photography, and the performances are solid across the board, especially Goodman and Arkin, who provide much of the picture’s humor.
“Argo” is one of the better films of the year and further proof of Affleck’s career revitalization as a director.
“Seven Psychopaths” is three-quarters of a very good movie. The picture is the second feature from playwright Martin McDonagh, whose last outing was the soulful hit man comedy “In Bruges.”
“Psychopaths” is on some whole other level. It’s truly bizarre and, at times, pretty difficult to define, but in a good way.
Without going too much into plot, let’s say Colin Farrell plays struggling screenwriter Marty, who happens to be writing a script about – that’s right – seven psychopaths. The problem is he has only come up with one – a masked killer known as the Jack of Diamonds, who bumps off mafia types.
Marty is pals with Billy (Sam Rockwell), who makes a living snatching dogs, returning them to their owners and collecting a finder’s fee. He does this with the help of Hans (a truly kooky Christopher Walken).
As time goes on, Marty concocts some other psychopaths – a Vietnamese monk who seeks revenge on soldiers who murdered his family at My Lai and an Amish man who is after the killer of his daughter. At one point, Marty even meets a serial killer (Tom Waits) who bumps off other serial killers.
Things get complicated when Billy and Hans kidnap a Shih Tzu owned by another psychopath, mobster Charlie (Woody Harrelson).
It’s at this point that “Seven Psychopaths” gets pretty meta and, as reality and fiction blur in its final third, begins to lose a little steam.
I’d still recommend the film for its loony depiction of the creative process, its wacky performances from all involved and its energetic storytelling. McDonagh is a real talent and his sophomore effort is a clever, off the wall crime picture.
Scott Derrickson’s “Sinister” begins with its creepiest image – a family of four with bags over their heads hangs from a tree in their backyard.
Ethan Hawke plays true crime writer Ellison Oswalt, who made a splash 10 years prior with an “In Cold Blood” style of debut, but has since fallen on hard times.
Unbeknownst to his wife and two children, Oswalt moves the family at the film’s beginning into a home where four members of a family were brutally murdered and the fifth – a young girl – has gone missing.
As he moves into his new home, Oswalt discovers a box of Super 8 films in the attic, each of which portray the gruesome murders of families dating back to the 1960s, including the clan whose house he is now inhabiting.
“Sinister” includes some truly creepy moments, though it’s hard not to smirk every time Hawke sneaks into the attic with merely a flashlight and the rest of the home’s lights turned off.
The film ends with a pretty nasty shock, which is easy to see coming but still effective. Unfortunately, Derrickson also felt the need to throw one last little gotcha moment in the film’s final seconds that I found to be more than a little bit cheesy.
On the whole, the picture is scary. It’s not the best horror movie I’ve seen this year so far – that would be “Cabin in the Woods” – but it’s likely better than the other films of its genre in theaters at this moment.