Reel Critics: 'Argo' holds audience hostage

It's a mark of great film-making when the retelling of history, with a known outcome, seizes us with suspense. Such is the case with "Argo," which had my heart racing within the first five minutes thanks to Ben Affleck's smart direction.

It opens with the reenactment of the fateful 1979 day when angry Iranians swarmed the U.S. Embassy. You can feel the terror of those inside and the intensity of anti-American sentiments that still hold true today.

Six managed to flee and find refuge in the Canadian ambassador's home, while 52 remained hostages for an agonizing 444 days. "Argo" tells the courageous story of how those six escaped posing as a Canadian film crew.

The idea was the brainchild of CIA operative Tony Mendez (Affleck) and reluctantly approved as the "best of the bad ideas." To add credence, Mendez enlists the help of a Hollywood makeup man (John Goodman) and low-budget producer (Alan Arkin) to develop a cheesy sci-fi script called "Argo." There's a great joke about that title that can't be published here, as these two old pros provide uneasy but welcome humor.

Affleck, the star, keeps a low profile in order to let the other characters take spotlight. He is now proven a director of the first rank. "Argo" is intensely moving and timely; and the rapt audience burst into rare applause at the end.


'Seven Psychopaths' blend crazy, kiilling genres

Quotes from movie reviews used in ads for "Seven Psychopaths" say a lot about the nature of the film. The critics' comments describe the film as "crazy killer fun" and "energetically demented." This wild caper picture certainly fills the bill on both counts.

Take the wild Hollywood inside joke plot of "Get Shorty." Add the strange twists often used by the Coen Brothers in films like "Fargo" and "The Big Lebowski." Throw in the violence of Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction." Now you have the genre blending surreal action fest of "Seven Psychopaths.

Writer and director Martin McDonagh created the Oscar-nominated "In Bruges" in 2008. He now goes over the top to prove he can make a mainstream American film noir with lots of blood. Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson are well cast as the psychos in this mind bending drama. Colin Farrell is the one sane character who keeps the story focused on a semblance of reality.

This film is gritty, funny, riveting and ultra violent all at once. It's an R-rated entertainment that will greatly please fans of "No Country for Old Men." But it may be too much for other viewers.

SUSANNE PEREZ lives in Costa Mesa and is an executive assistant for a company in Irvine.

JOHN DEPKO is a retired senior investigator for the Orange County public defender's office. He lives in Costa Mesa and works as a licensed private investigator.

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