Monday, November 12, 2012

Recent Movies: Argo and Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

A daring idea for a comedy produces a rather quiet film, and one not nearly as funny as you might expect.  Indeed, it’s one of the saddest American comedies to be seen in years.  The jokes are mostly knowing, wistful ones about human behavior in the face of coming doom--some people go crazy, some throw out all boundaries, some commit suicide, and some go looking for love.  It’s all a but mopey and mushy, and lacking in memorable scenes, but Steve Carell and Keira Knightley anchor the film with heartfelt roles and surprisingly believable chemistry.  Somehow the thing does end up developing momentum and building emotion.  And in the end, it seems to me, this little movie reveals a far more compelling, truthful, and finally, beautiful, view of the human response to The End than Von Trier’s Melancholia and all it’s half-baked philosophizing.

Rating: 7/10 stars.


When a film presents itself as a docudrama about events of international importance occurring within living memory, it helps if the film is accurate in what it portrays.  Argo is not the worst offender in this regard, but when one reads afterward about the various fudged details and learns most of the tension-building elements of the second half of the film were added or falsified, it can leave a viewer dissatisfied.  When the film offers little in terms of depth or theme otherwise (none of the characters are more than two-dimensional, and while there’s a mishmash of comments about Iranian history and the American response that one suspects are just there so the filmmakers can defend themselves from charges of jingoism, there are no larger comments on America and/or the Middle East), the viewer might come to feel the whole thing was a bit empty and forgettable, at worst misleading and reprehensible.  

I won’t go quite that far, because the truth is Argo is pretty gripping stuff, and it effectively dramatizes the mood of the nation and the administration during one of the major crises of recent decades.  It is always a fascinating thing, for this viewer anyway, to see the inner workings of important institutions and the machinations behind major events, and I found the little details to be the most interesting (everything from the mechanical devices used by air traffic controllers before computers to the fact that the revolutionaries employed women and children to piece shredded diplomatic documents back together for propaganda purposes).  There’s also some good stuff in here about Hollywood, both its hypocrisies and its perennial appeal, and plenty of snappy dialogue to give the illusion of more depth.  The clever skewering of the movie business early on, though, just makes it more disappointing that Affleck had to “Hollywood-up” the climax with fictional ticking-clock delays.  In the end, we’re left with a pretty good movie that probably makes most viewers want to read the book or watch a documentary on the subject to learn more about the real story.

[As a P.S., I found Jimmy Carter’s voiceover at the end terribly self-serving with its boast of getting all the hostages back “peacefully”--despite the fact his violent option crashed in the desert and cost 8 American servicemen their lives, not to mention the fact the Iranians released the hostages on the day he left office as a final humiliation, not a victory.]

Rating: 6/10 stars.

(actually posted Jan 2015)

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