A terrific Argo by Ben Affleck, plus Seven Psychopaths, Sinister, and Antiviral: reviews
A full slate of new movies today, led by a re-working of the famous Canadian Caper into the more American caper called Argo. You’ll also find a businessman acting badly, two writers pushing their craft too far and an eternal religious question.
Here’s the list:
Argo: 4 stars
Seven Psychopaths: 2½
Here Comes the Boom: —
ARGO: So, the Canadian Caper was mostly American. You’ll find some dispute, though, from people like Ken Taylor who were there in 1979 when our embassy in Iran sheltered six American hostages that a mob of demonstrators wanted to find. Taylor was our ambassador. He got fake Canadian passports for the six and helped them get out of the country. The story has already been told in a movie and two documentaries.
Now the Ben Affleck version is based on two books by the CIA agent who constructed an elaborate ruse to free the hostages. He passed as a movie producer scouting locations for a sci-fi action flick. He set up a Hollywood office, got a producer (Alan Arkin) and a makeup man (John Goodman) working with him, created a poster and planted trade paper stories trumpeting a film called Argo. All pretty usual in Tinseltown and it proved convincing in Tehran.
Affleck plays the agent and also directs this rousing adventure. There’s superb tension. He has to teach the hostages to act Canadian and get them to the airport as the Iranis are catching on. It’s not all true, but close. A backgrounder shows how the U.S. backed a coup to install the Shah of Iran and then gave him asylum when he was overthrown. Iran should like that. Expect big rewards at Oscar time. The Master is a more artful film; this one is more entertaining, and about Hollywood, very funny and cynical. (The Park, Dunbar, Scotiabank and many suburban theatres) 4 out of 5
ARBITRAGE: I thought this might be, like last year’s Margin Call, a meditation on the ways of the financial types who caused the big economic meltdown. Part of it is. Richard Gere plays a hedge fund manager who’s trying to hide a fraud, fool the auditors and sell his company before it collapses. That’s the background, though, not the centre. More common personal failings live there.
He’s married (to Susan Sarandon) and has a French art dealer as a mistress. One night he crashes his car, she dies, he runs and a relentless police detective (Tim Roth) is on his case. Gere squirms as the film tightens the screws subtly but firmly around him, as the sale of the company stalls and his own daughter (Brit Marling), serving as his chief investment officer, finds a glitch in the books. It’s a lean, catchy suspense thriller set in the affluent world of limos, swanky apartments and classy offices. Gere and Roth carry on a terrifically tense duel of cop versus suspect. (5th Avenue, International Village and two suburban theatres) 3 ½ out of 5
SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS: This one also takes a funny, acerbic view of the American movie industry. In a meta way. It’s about itself which works for the most part but is also hobbled by trying much too hard to be quirky.
You’ll laugh but you won’t feel attached in any way. That’s surprising since it was written and directed by Martin McDonagh who brought us the terrific black comedy In Bruges four years ago and won both an Oscar and a BAFTA for the screenplay. Colin Farrell is his lead actor again as a screenwriter who has a title for a script, Seven Psychopaths, but no content. His buddy (Sam Rockwell) helps him out with bizarre ideas, much mock histrionics and a classified ad seeking genuine psychopaths. It turns up a candidate too bizarre to be funny. More amusing is the buddy’s livelihood. He and another friend (Christopher Walken) kidnap dogs and collect the reward when they return them. They make a big mistake when they grab the dear Shih Tzu of a psycho gangster (Woody Harrelson). Farrell is calm, everybody else plays weirdly demented. The film is often clever, sometimes bloody violent and generally a scattered array of bits that don’t coalesce. (Scotiabank and suburban theatres) 2 ½ out of 5
SINISTER: This is daring. Another found-footage film just one week before the next Paranormal Activity arrives. Good thing that this is a snappy little horror film with a strong performance by Ethan Hawke as a writer who dares to get too close. “Your father writes about terrible terrible things” his wife tells the kids at dinner. His latest subject is the unexplained death of four members of one family who were found hanging from a tree. He’s moved his own family to the small town where it happened and, to his wife’s later horror, into the very house where the family lived.
He finds a box of Super 8 movies which show some of the incident as it occured. There are other films with other deaths in other locations; a recurring drawing of a “Mr. Boogie” and spooky events in the house that creep out the wife and kids. A local police deputy (James Ransone) offers to help and eventually does but mostly serves to provide comic relief and a few breaks. Nothing groundbreaking here but the film is pretty persistent with its scares. (International Village and many suburban theatres) 2 ½ out of 5
HELLBOUND?: We say its name so often and certainly don’t want to be sent there, but does hell actually exist? The Catholic Church got rid of the notion some years ago; evangelical churches persist in using a vision of fire and brimstone to intimidate and somewhere between there’s a debate. This documentary by Kevin Miller from Abbotsford lays it out thoughtfully and fairly.
At the start he seems to be going after some easy targets. He’s scolded for even asking the question by demonstrators in New York who say 9-11 was God’s retribution for homosexuality. More conventional hellmongers follow, including an exorcist who claims to “meet demons on a daily basis” and various fiery and sweaty preachers. Then also writers, theologians and religious leaders who lay out the scope of the discussion, basically three ideas of what comes after we die. The classical: some go to heaven, some to hell. Annihilationism: everything just ends for everybody. (Would God do that to us?) And Universalism: everybody goes to Heaven. (Even Hitler? Bin Laden?) You can find all three ideas in the Bible and several writers have stirred up a hot current argument. The film is fascinating, even for non-believers. (International Village and Colossus in Langley) 3 ½ out of 5
ANTIVIRAL: Brandon Cronenberg (son of David) starts his directing career pretty well where his father did with a lurid tale involving creepy dangers to the human body. He’s got the style but not yet the substance.
Our celebrity mania is the subject and it’s gone to ridiculous lengths in the near future this film depicts. A chic clinic offers to inject its clients with a virus from their favorite idol. That way they can share their pain. A restaurant goes further. It serves meat cloned from the cells of celebrities. From this unappetizing scenario not a great deal emerges. There’s a stylish cold mood; there are several cases of bleeding from the mouth or spitting up of blood but what is it saying about celebs and their fans? Caleb Landry Jones, a singer, plays a rogue technician and Sarah Gadon plays a blonde goddess who is bed ridden with her illness. (International Village and three suburban theatres) 2 out of 5
Also now playing …
HERE COMES THE BOOM: A highschool is cutting extra-curricular activities. How can a biology teacher raise some money to save them? Become a mixed-martial arts fighter, of course. (Only in the movies.) Critics weren’t invited to the local preview screening. That may be no loss. Kevin James is the star. His recent filmography has these duds: Zookeeper, The Dilemma, Grown Ups and Paul Blart: Mall Cop. (International Village and suburban theatres)
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