Argo: A Well-Paced Thriller

I worry about movies where they show maps at the beginning. Maps with excessive voiceover usually make me cringe. It seems so amateurish.

But, I suppose, in the case of Argo, when one is trying to explain the complexities of Iran, one had better insert some briefing materials at the beginning for those Americans who don’t know what the heck is going on over there.

Or, what was going on in 1979 over there, which is when our story takes place.

First-time screenwriter Chris Terrio does OK, considering this is his first feature script. There are a lot of characters and situations to throw around, and for the most part, they are handled with ease.

Ben Affleck’s direction is another issue. This, his third movie, is the tensest of them all, with a juicy story. However, his propensity to have a closeup of himself just about every other shot really started to irk me after a while. Sorry, Ben, but this story isn’t about the guy who got them out. It’s about the hostages. (Or it SHOULD be.) They are the news here.

But if you can put all that aside, you have a story that up until President Clinton declassified it several years ago, no one really knew about.

The movie is exceedingly well cast. Lots of great actors, from Kyle Chandler as Hamilton Jordan to Bob Gunton as Cyrus Vance. Adam Arkin and John Goodman cover the Hollywood piece. Victor Garber is the Canadian ambassador. Tate Donovan and Clea DuVall are two of the hostages. Zeljko Ivanec and Titus Welliver play key roles.

But best of all, Bryan Cranston (really hard to not see him as Walter White anymore) is wonderful as the CIA guy. And Ben Affleck (in his “Hollywood won’t cast me, so I’ll cast me” role) is pretty good, save for all the closeups. There is a whole unnessary montage of Ben, alone with a whiskey bottle, which is overly long and somewhat extraneous.

So, a lot of people are lauding Argo, and it is a fun ride, but I have a lot of reservations about it being pushed into Best Picture territory.


Emmys 2011: Some thoughts

Kyle Chandler. That’s all I keep thinking about when I remember last night’s Emmys. The good guys finally won. Our full hearts and clear eyes finally found some Emmy voters who agreed with not only Kyle Chandler as Best Actor in a Drama, but also the series finale, “Always” as Best Writing in a Drama.

That image, of Kyle Chandler (truly not expecting to win), and the favorite, Jon Hamm truly looking stunned he didn’t, keeps staying with me.

That, and the Best Actress in a Comedy beauty contest pageant lineup (dreamed up by Amy Poehler and Martha Plimpton) that ended up with long-overdue winner (for Gilmore Girls, not just Mike & Molly) Melissa McCarthy ending up with a tiara on her head, and roses in her hands, in addition to an Emmy.

Melissa McCarthy with a tiara. Kyle Chandler, nearly speechless. The good guys winning. That’s what this Emmys brought.

Many of my predictions (Peter Dinklage for Game of Thrones Best Supporting Actor, Drama; Julianna Margulies for Best Actress, Drama; Ty Burrell for Best Supporting Actor, Comedy) seemed easy to me, and came true (I had a 16-9 record). But it was the ones I thought were too good to actually happen that did.

Kyle Chandler, Melissa McCarthy. I had actually predicted “Always” to win Writing, but I thought it too sweet, too perfect to happen. Like Martin Scorcese, winning for Direction in Drama for Boardwalk Empire. It seemed like it must happen, I predicted it, but it seemed so far outside what everyone else was predicting.

I was wrong about Julie Bowen, though I was right about most of the rest of the Modern Family cavalcade. Both Jane Lynch and Julie Bowen triumphed thru being submitted on their competitors’ tapes this year. I’m really glad it was Bowen who pulled it out.

And when Peter Dinklage got up there (the common wisdom varied, usually centering on either John Slattery or Josh Charles), taking a statue for the Lannisters, all felt right with the world. So, too, when Margo Martindale (whom I also had predicted) got to the stage. It was like there was a collective “Awwww” heard all through Hollywood. Here was a working actress who had been one of those “jobbers” who’s constantly working in series after series, being recognized for what a great actress she actually is.

That was the tenor and the fabric of this year’s Emmys. No glossy winners who didn’t deserve it. Jeff Probst had won again at the Creative Arts Emmys last week (so very deserving). The Daily Show, deservedly, collected its stash of trophies. (So very deserving.) Kate Winslet and Guy Pearce, who made Mildred Pierce come alive, picked up theirs.

Stately Downtown Abbey won its share, including for Maggie Smith.

In fact, I can’t think of one winner where I thought, Oh, that’s so wrong, that person/show didn’t deserve it. And, for me, the ones I missed I credit to the fact that I hadn’t yet watched their tapes (Jim Parsons for Best Actor, Comedy; although everyone else was predicting Steve Carrell, anyway).

Let me speak to that for a moment. People who predict Emmys (for a living, even) often choose based on who is “due” or who seems to be hot at the moment. I believe firmly that the driving factor in choice is the tape in front of that Emmy voter, compared against the next tape. Perhaps, if, for example, Martha Plimpton and Melissa McCarthy both had brilliant and funny tapes, and a voter can’t decide, they will go to “Oh yeah, she’s been working in the industry for so long, she deserves it,” or “I loved her in Bridesmaids, so I’m going to pick her.” Perhaps it works like that. With the tape being 85% of the decision, and all things being equal, other factors being added in after that point.

Others, including big Emmy gurus, predict people like Steve Carrell because of the sentimentality, the picture they’d like to paint, that “well, it’s his last year on The Office,” of course people are finally going to give it to him.” I don’t think that factors in at all. (Or within 10-15%, at most.) I erred in my prognostications this year because I bought into the hype, thinking that Betty White, back together with Mary Tyler Moore in her tape, would be Emmy catnip.

Really, what counted was that in both Jane Lynch’s case and Julie Bowen’s case, they were on TWO tapes that Emmy voters watched. And since Lynch won last year, it was a simple choice.

I use these factors to make my Emmy prognostication better next time around.

But until then, go seek out Friday Night Lights, if you haven’t already. Cause you know: Clear eyes, Full hearts can’t lose. Congrats to all.