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Peter T Chattaway

Argo

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Links to our threads on Persepolis (2007), Tehran (in development) and Iranian cinema.

Links to our threads on Ben Affleck's previous directorial efforts, Gone Baby Gone (2007) and The Town (2010).

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Ben Affleck in Talks to Direct Tehran Hostage Crisis Film (Exclusive)

Ben Affleck is in early negotiations to direct Argo, an adaptation of a Wired magazine article revolving around the Tehran hostage crisis.

George Clooney and Grant Heslov are producing the political thriller, which is said to also contain elements of wry humor.

The title of the article says it all: “How the CIA Used a Fake Sci-Fi Flick to Rescue Americans from Tehran.”

Written by Joshuah Bearman and published in April 2007, the story centers on how, during the occupation of the American embassy by Iranians in 1979, a rescue effort was mounted by the CIA and the Canadian government to extract six U.S. diplomats.

The CIA used a disguise expert and concocted a scenario that involved the six being a Hollywood crew scouting a movie titled Argo. Under those disguises, they were able to flee the country.

Of interest to comic geeks is the involvement of legendary comics creator Jack Kirby; the artist's movie designs and drawings were used by the CIA to sell the existence of the movie. . . .

Hollywood Reporter, February 3

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Alan Arkin first to board 'Argo'

Ben Affleck has tapped "Little Miss Sunshine" star Alan Arkin as the first actor to join his Tehran hostage crisis pic "Argo."

Arkin is in negotiations to play Hollywood producer Lester Siegel, an O.S.S. veteran described as equal parts bookie and rabbi. . . .

Variety, June 10

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I'm looking forward to this one. At this point I'm automatically interested in Affleck's directorial work. And Argo looks particularly intriguing.

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Sure. Yeah. I'm in, for both the film and the story.

The example dialogue is surprisingly whimsical. Comes across like a Munich-lite.

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Looks like the kind of story that would be better-suited to a book than a film.

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Looks like the kind of story that would be better-suited to a book than a film.

Why do you say that?

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Looks like the kind of story that would be better-suited to a book than a film.

Why do you say that?

That the appeal of this story would lie more in the details and context of the story, stuff that could easily be handled in a book, which would be free to go on at length about the historical situation, Iranian culture, the complexities of the project the CIA undertakes here, etc., stuff that would likely be discarded in a two-hour film that condenses the story for the sake of clarity.

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Looks like the kind of story that would be better-suited to a book than a film.

Why do you say that?

That the appeal of this story would lie more in the details and context of the story, stuff that could easily be handled in a book, which would be free to go on at length about the historical situation, Iranian culture, the complexities of the project the CIA undertakes here, etc., stuff that would likely be discarded in a two-hour film that condenses the story for the sake of clarity.

Yes, I can and will agree with that. I, probably mistakenly, read your statement as saying this story is ill-suited to a film. ie. That the film is already a wasted effort.

Edited by Judo Chop

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No updates here since May? Not even with all the buzz that came out of the festival circuit a few weeks ago? Huh.

Anyhoo, this movie oughtta have particular resonance now, given what's been happening to *other* American embassies in the Muslim world recently (and given that Canada actually cut off diplomatic ties to Iran a week or so *before* the embassy attacks in those other countries)...

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Argo: Ben Affleck alters movie postcript, giving Ken Taylor his Hollywood ending

This is a story with a novel Hollywood ending: how Ken Taylor and Ben Affleck became new best friends after the Star revealed that Taylor’s pals were offended by the way he was portrayed in Affleck’s new movie Argo.

When Affleck heard about the controversy, he picked up the phone and called Taylor, Canada’s former ambassador to Iran. And as Affleck explained Tuesday in an exclusive interview with the Star, he told Taylor, “If you have issues, I’ll address them.”

The result: a postscript line onscreen at the end of the movie, which Taylor’s friends regarded as an insult both to him and to Canada, has been removed and replaced by a new postscript: “The involvement of the CIA complemented efforts of the Canadian embassy to free the six held in Tehran. To this day the story stands as an enduring model of international co-operation between governments.” . . .

When Argo had its world premiere at a TIFF gala at Roy Thomson Hall on Sept. 7, the suggestion was that CIA operatives were the true heroes in the six fugitives’ escape. The old postscript sent the message that, for political reasons, Canada took the credit. A sarcastic kicker noted that Taylor received 112 citations. The clear implication was that he did not deserve them. . . .

“I expressed my concern with certain details in the movie,” Taylor told me just before leaving his hotel to catch a flight back to New York. “In reality, Canada was responsible for the six and the CIA was a junior partner. But I realize this is a movie and you have to keep the audience on the edge of their seats. Ben was very gracious and we got along really well. There are a few points I want to address. Now Ben and I both feel free to talk about them.”

So well, in fact, that Taylor and his wife taped a commentary for the extra features on the DVD version of Argo, which will not be released until 2013. . . .

According to Taylor, several details of the plot are pure fiction. There was never any crisis about getting the plane tickets for the six, as in the climatic scenes of Argo, because he bought three sets of plane tickets, paid for by Pat Taylor. Nor did Taylor ever threaten to close down the Canadian embassy, leaving his secret U.S. house guests with nowhere to hide. Nor did the six ever go to a bazaar.

“I would never have allowed that,” says Taylor.

And oh, by the way, while in Tehran, Mendez was taken care of by the Canadian embassy.

“What matters to me is the essence and importance of diplomacy,” Taylor sums up. “It matters more now than ever before. It’s a risky business but vitally important.

“You can’t just close the office,” he adds, in an apparent swipe at Ottawa’s recent decision to close the Canadian embassy in Iran. . . .

Toronto Star, September 19

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No updates here since May? Not even with all the buzz that came out of the festival circuit a few weeks ago? Huh.

I believe there were some comments in the TIFF thread. I posted a review here, though I didn't really feel strongly enough about the film to chat it up here.

Ken

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This is all I could muster:

I’m the wrong person to write about Argo. At this point I honestly can’t tell the difference between parodies of Hollywood dramas and the real deal. Argo is competently made and occasionally fun, and I’m still hopeful that Ben Affleck will prove himself to be an interesting director, but this film is an exercise in manufactured suspense weighed down by a humorless lead performance by Affleck. That it treats the Iranian revolution like the Star Wars bedsheets, rotary dial telephones, and thick mustaches that lend the film its period detail might be forgivable if the film weren’t so boring. But, again, I’m the wrong person for this film. It will be a critical hit, I’m sure.

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These days, a new written review by me is a rarity, but I'm glad I picked Argo for this month.

The fact-based premise is almost enough to sell Argo by itself. The film opens and closes as a tense political spy caper, but it’s also an affectionate send-up of the movie-making process. The old advice to writers to “write what you know” is applicable to movies about movies, from Singin’ in the Rain to The Artist, and few subjects inspire Hollywood—or appeal to movie fans and film critics—more reliably than Hollywood itself.

Affleck’s directorial chops are evident in his most ambitious film to date, a large-scale international production shot in the United States and Turkey, with Istanbul playing itself as well as doubling for Tehran. (There’s a gorgeous sequence at the Hagia Sophia, including a conversation set against the great Deësis mosaic of Christ Pantocrator, the Virgin Mary and Saint John the Baptist, for no obvious reason except that it’s there.)

It is startling how recent events have lent Argo an almost uncanny currency—in the process highlighting sobering current realities downplayed by the media. We see images of angry, chanting mobs besieging a U.S. embassy in a Muslim country, climbing over the walls, burning American flags…

As an early scene depicts the U.S. intelligence community brainstorming possible cover stories to smuggle out six Americans who have escaped capture and have been given secret sanctuary at the Canadian embassy in Tehran, it’s impossible not to think of the phony immunization program in Pakistan staged by the CIA in an unsuccessful bid to get blood samples from Osama bin Laden’s compound.

…In the last act, in particular, the film pumps up the drama of the escape with predictable thriller complications and tension. It’s transparent and contrived, but it works all the same.

The best moment in the escape, though, comes down to a classic Hollywood pitch: a moment when a storyteller has a few moments to make his listeners believe in the magic of a movie that doesn’t exist. In a typical pitch, success or failure could mean the difference between a movie being made or not. The stakes are higher here, but the method and the goal are the same.

Edited by SDG

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Bryan Cranston is the new Samuel L Jackson...or getting there at least.

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My first-impression review. As usual, subject to change if I see it again.

Good thoughts, Jeff.

I think some of your criticisms carry more weight than others. For instance, while the movie doesn't explore the questions you cite (e.g., "Was the U.S. wise to give protection to the Shah?"), we do hear the characters debating these very questions, and certainly the movie presents the circumstances in a sufficiently ambiguous light to at least raise the questions. As my friend Lawrence Toppman wrote in his review:

Among many things that make the taut thriller “Argo” remarkable is this one: It depicts a 1980 rescue of American hostages from Iran yet begins by pointing out that the United States was partly responsible for the situation.

…how many of us realize the U.S. and Britain deposed democratically elected Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953 and replaced him with the dictator (and infamous torturer) Reza Shah Pahlavi? When Iranians finally rose against this autocrat in 1979, America gave Pahlavi asylum. Much of the anti-American hatred at that point came from the opinion that we were harboring a criminal.

“Argo” steps into the story there.

The line in your review I most question is "Movies like this define 'Love Your Neighbor' only far enough to include neighbors that speak our language and have homes within our borders." I'll quote Toppman again: "At the same time, even the angry and suspicious Iranian characters aren’t demonized, and one becomes a quiet hero."

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My first-impression review. As usual, subject to change if I see it again.

[excerpt]When it was over, and the hostages were released, I remember getting the impression from adults in my community embraced that this was God’s way of announcing that Ronald Reagan was well pleased with His beloved president.[/excerpt]

There's a mash-up here, Jeff.

I heard Ken Turan's review of the film this morning, and he played the dialogue between Arkin and Affleck wherein Arkin is basically going through the litany of why it's an impossible mission (one way out! all people shouting DEATH TO AMERICA!) and Affleck adds the detail that makes it EVEN MORE IMPOSSIBLE (airport guards!) and I just couldn't believe it. That's EXPENDABLES-level action-movie cliche. When you've got a B movie inside a B movie, what do you get?

On the upside, I love, love Ben Affleck's beard and 1979 haircut. He should keep those permanente. While whiskerless, he's always had a face that I found to be--there's no God-pleasing way to say this--eminently punchable. His 1979 China Syndrome/three-piece-suit guise gives him historically-inherited gravitas.

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Bryan Cranston is the new Samuel L Jackson...or getting there at least.

Jeff critcized Cranston's recent, frequent appearances in films, but I'm a fan of his work here -- I think he may be give the best performance in the film, although he's not all that great, just kind of fun to watch.

I loved him in Drive.

I can't remember what else I've seen him in recently, but I think there's at least one other title that's escaping me.

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I can't remember what else I've seen him in recently, but I think there's at least one other title that's escaping me.

Total Recall? Rock of Ages? John Carter?

Not quite in as many movies as Emily Blunt, and still has a way to go before he reaches Isabelle Huppert status (who, apparently, is contractually obligated to be in at least three films or they can't have a Toronto International Film Festival).

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I thought he was the one weak link in Drive. He was the only who took me out of the movie by what struck me as overacting or at least hamming it up.

Thanks for catching the error in the "Reagan" sentence, Russ. Today, my computer's behaving strangely. Twice, I've been typing along only to discover that my text doubled back on itself and inserted new text in the middle of the paragraph in progress. That's led to some strangely confused lines.

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand that's post #15,000. How embarrassing.

Edited by Overstreet

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or a new keyboard. My techie at work claims when that happens it is because you are inadvertently dragging your palm across a sensitive keypad. I'm dubious, but when they got me a USB ergonomic keyboard at work, the computer stopped doing that.

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