Argo – LFF Review

In 1979 the American Embassy in Tehran was invaded by Iranian students and militants. For more than a year the American civil servants who worked in the Embassy are held hostage in the building in which they used to work. Just as the Embassy was invaded six diplomats managed to escape. Initially taken in by the Canadian ambassador the escapees become the subjects of a bizarre and fantastical rescue mission by the CIA.

Argo is a strange beast. The film opens with the American Embassy being stormed and six characters with bad haircuts escape amidst panic and violence. The tone is set for a serious drama about a serious international political event. As we are introduced to the CIA, and most importantly Ben Affleck as CIA specialist Tony Mendez, the tone remains serious – the six escapees must be rescued or all manner of unpleasant things might happen. However the minute John Goodman as John Chambers, Hollywood make-up expert and CIA… make-up artist, enters the film alongside Alan Arkin as film producer Lester Siegel the films starts to mix its tense drama with tongue-in-cheek Hollywood satire.

The plan that Mendez is pushing is one in which he, Chambers, and Siegel fake the production of a Sci-Fi adventure filming in Iran so that the six fugitives can be smuggled out of the country. As events in Iran are treated with a po-faced frown the parallel exploits of the characters (and I do mean characters!), are a light-hearted sideways look at Hollywood hype and many a line is delivered in such a way that Goodman and Arkin may as well turn to camera and give a knowing nod and wink.

With this odd mix of tones Affleck (taking on directing duties too) risks making a film that jars and fails to fully convey the seriousness of the real-life drama at its heart. Somehow Affleck actually makes this work with the silly Hollywood segments serving as a light relief to the endless angst and worrying from the characters (this time with no distinct personalities at all) in Iran. Argo is the perfect mix of humour and drama; it gives you a dramatic situation to keep you hooked but keeps you genuinely entertained as events unfold.

One place Argo does misjudge things (ignoring some historical inaccuracies) are in its climax. As the plan reaches fruition and the motley crew finally try to leave Iran we are presented with a seemingly endless stream of near miss disasters. Absolutely nothing happens until the absolutely last possible second. Even their plane tickets home aren’t confirmed until the woman checking them in has searched the bookings once. The film is tense enough without every “will they make it?” moment being followed by another five.

Argo is a rare example of the fun historical/political drama and is in UK cinemas 7th November 2012.

The Muppets – BlogalongaMuppets 7

Over 12 years since their last cinematic release, and over 30 years since The Muppet Show finished on the small screen, the Muppets have split up, their studios have fallen into disrepair and Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) wants to buy the land to drill for oil. Enter Walter (a puppet/Muppet?) and Gary (Jason Segel), a pair of brothers determined to help reunite the Muppets and raise the $10 million they need to save their studio. Given two hours of primetime TV to hold a telethon by a desperate studio exec (Rashida Jones), the gang have just days to put together a revival of The Muppet Show.

Amy Adams is also in the cast as Gary’s fiancĂ©e in a wholly redundant sub-plot about nothing much at all, but I’ll mostly be ignoring that part of the film. Other criticisms (let’s get them out of the way) include the fact that the premise of a telethon allows for a few too many brief celebrity cameos, and that some jokes are better in the set-up than the execution – the Muppet collecting montage is a prime example. The Muppets is also guilty of overusing green screen to get the Muppets in a variety of locations and doing things impossible for a puppet to do. I understand this can save time and money but it also takes away from the rustic charm of the Muppets.

Griping over.

At its heart The Muppets is one great big love letter to the Muppets. The film is a celebration of our favourite felt-based friends and acknowledges the TV and film heritage they have created. This is most evident in this instalment’s connections to 1979’s The Muppet Movie, not only is one song from this film reprised on-stage but the Standard Rich and Famous Contract, which the Muppets receive at the end of The Muppet Movie, serves as the Maguffin in The Muppets. This is roughly as intellectual as I can get.

Present but never overused is the standard Muppet meta-humour, the characters are aware that this is a film, and after the disappointment of Muppets from Space, the songs are back. And what amazing songs! Man or Muppet truly deserves to win the Oscar for Best Original Song. It is clear that Bret McKenzie from Flight of the Conchords wrote the songs as they have that distinct Conchordian sound, and are all the better for it. My acid test for a musical is whether or not the songs are in my head the next day, and Man or Muppet was ringing loud and clear in my brain for the rest of the week. Job done.

There is so much to love about this film that the few flaws are easily forgiven and The Muppets ends up being a superior production to the early Muppet films it is paying tribute to. I left the cinema with a massive grin on my face, a song in my heart and a skip in my step. There was also a book in my bag, but this is unrelated.

The Muppets is a joy, made for the fans but surely just as enjoyable for the uninitiated.

Only one question remains about The Muppets, where the hell was Rizzo!?

Muppet Movie Ranking:
1. The Muppet Christmas Carol
2. Muppet Treasure Island
3. The Muppets
4. The Muppets Take Manhattan
5. The Great Muppet Caper
6. The Muppet Movie
7. Muppets from Space

Top 10 Road Trip Films (I Own)

For the next week and a half I will be roaming around the South West of England in a yellow VW Campervan called Barney embarking on A Very English Road Trip. To celebrate I’ve compiled a list of the top ten road trip movies I own on DVD. An odd criteria for a film list but these film lists are superficial at the best of times.

Away We Go
A surprisingly light-hearted film from Sam Mendes as a young couple visit friends and relatives while trying to find the right place to bring up their imminent baby. John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph are a convincing couple and provide the sanity amongst the crazy characters they visit. Maggie Gyllenhaal and Allison Janney are the two main highlights along their journey.

Catfish
The only documentary on this list, Catfish follows the burgeoning online romance between Yaniv Schulman and the sister of a young artist he has been emailing. After some suspicious events Yaniv and his friends travel to the mystery girl’s house and uncover something they had never expected. There is debate about this documentary’s authenticity, either way it makes for a gripping watch.

The Darjeeling Limited
Wes Anderson takes his signature style on the road, or rather on the track, as three brothers travel through India by train, looking for their mother and getting to grips with the loss of their father. Jason Schwartzmann, Adrien Brody and Owen Wilson fit perfectly with Anderson’s tone as the three brothers and their journey is as much emotional as it is physical. Natalie Portman makes a brief, but revealing, appearance in the preceding short film.

The Go-Getter
The most indie film on the list unites Sundance darlings Lou Taylor Pucci, Zooey Deschanel and Jena Malone and brought together for the first time the she and him in She & Him. A young man has a quarter life crisis, steals a car and discovers love, and himself, on the road. A little bit twee to ever be successful, this is worth a watch if you are a fan of the cast, or just enjoy a gentle film about someone abandoning life and hitting the road.

Into the Wild
Speaking of a young man having a quarter life crisis and hitting the road… This time round the traveller is played by Emile Hirsch with a pre-Twilight Kristen Stewart providing the tempting romance he finds along the way. Stewart’s role is quite small though and this is the biggest single-hander of the lot, with Hirsch the only character present throughout. This was Sean Penn’s last work behind the camera and is proof he should do more.

Little Miss Sunshine
An amazing cast go travelling in a yellow VW Campervan (not called Barney) in order to get Abigail Breslin to her beauty pageant. Darkly funny and more than a little moving this road trip ends the way all movies should, with a big dance number. Kevin Bacon would be proud. The film is notable for featuring Steve Carell’s most subdued performance, and for inspiring the colour scheme of this very website.

O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Even the Coen Brothers have made a road trip film, theirs being an adaptation of Homer’s The Odyssey and starring George Clooney, John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson as three escaped convicts searching for hidden treasure. Encountering all manner of characters and obstacles along the way this is the quintessential road trip film, and the only one to involve the KKK.

Transamerica
Any good road trip forces the film to shift focus from traditional plot or location and instead focus on the characters who are the only constant through the film, and their relationships. Few films utilise this better than Transamerica as Felicity Huffman’s pre-op transsexual meets her son for the first time as she ferries him across country under the guise of being a charity worker.

Wristcutters: A Love Story
While most of these films involve travelling across the United States, Wristcutters moves beyond the world of the living and instead is set in an afterlife reserved for people who commit suicide. Shortly after his death Patrick Fugit hears that his old girlfriend, Leslie Bibb, has also killed herself and so takes his room-mate and tries to find her. Along the way he encounters some charmingly rustic supernatural elements and Tom Waits, who also provides the soundtrack.

Zombieland
While everyone in Wristcutters is dead, most of the people our travellers come across in this film are the undead. Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson travel through the post-apocalyptic landscape in search of Twinkies and instead find Emma Stone (swoon), Abigail Breslin (road trip queen) and more zombies than you can shake a double barreled shotgun at. One of cinema’s greatest cameos is the icing on this zombie cake.

If there’s anything all these films have in common, it’s that the destination is not the important part, it’s the journey and characters that are key when the film has no other consistent element.