Rating: The Good – 76.9 Genre: Drama, Science Fiction Duration: 94 mins Director: Gareth Edwards Stars: Scoot McNairy, Whitney Able, Mario Zuniga
Writer director Gareth Edwards announced himself as a filmmaker of note with this subjective approach to the monster movie, which became the basis for his less successful attempt at Godzilla (2014). Whereas most movies of this type sacrifice the personal drama at the expense of big budget monster carnage, his laudable independent feature takes entirely the opposite approach by making a highly personal drama about two lost souls who are thrown together in a near future Mexico which has been overrun with giant creatures from outer space (don’t worry, it works!). Scoot McNairy is a photographer who shoots the disaster left in the path of the creatures and Whitney Able is the daughter of his rich boss who, for her own reasons, has been hiding away in Mexico. However, at her father’s request, she must now return to the US under the care of his initially begrudging employee. But as the airports and ports close due to the encroaching monsters, the pair end up having to make their way through the infected zone and over the border.
The monsters are kept very much on the periphery of the drama and there are no action set pieces in the traditional sense as Edwards chooses instead to use the unusual context to contrast and therefore accentuate the authenticity of the relationship that develops between the two characters. And in truth, he brings us remarkably close to them and keeps us intimately engaged with their struggle. Real life couple, McNairy and Able share a palpable chemistry but are excellent in all other respects too and, of course, this was crucial because we are only too happy to leave the monsters in the background and focus on the couple as they work out their own problems amidst their burgeoning friendship. The movie glides forward thanks to smoothness of their acting, Edwards equally intimate photography (he was DP too), and Jon Hopkins serenely cool score. The threat of the monsters helps ratchet the tension when needed but if the movie has a failing, its that the danger never really materialises in the manner most will be waiting for. This would be fine if Monsters was a straight up romantic drama but the presence of monsters in the first place makes certain promises that will let many a moviegoer down. For the rest of us, there’s more than enough to justify Edwards’ fascinating project and ensure it becomes a cult favourite in the future.
Rating: The Good – 78.4 Genre: Thriller Duration: 120 mins Director: Ben Affleck Stars: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman
Director and star Ben Affleck hits three for three with a pitch perfect account of how a CIA agent extracted six American citizens trapped in Iran after the 1980 revolution with the “best bad idea” that he could come up with. Based on actual events, Argo does something that not many films get to do. It gives us the real scoop on a well known yet relatively recent moment in history by telling a story so inherently dramatic and daft that we’d scarcely believe it was possible if told as outright fiction. Yes, it takes some liberties here and there but the essential story of US citizens being “exphiltrated” from Iran disguised as a Canadian film crew who were ostensibly there to shoot a science fiction epic is entirely true. In fact, this story would almost write itself if allowed but the end result would probably be nothing more ambitious than a wacky comedy. Thankfully Affleck and writer Chris Terrio don’t let it and they instead look deep into the people and events of the time to find the genuine heroism, intelligence, and downright bravery that in reality defines a tale like this. Nothing here is glossed over from the emotional baggage of Affleck as the agent with the crazy plan to the tensions, fear, and mistrust of the Americans in hiding and the Canadian ambassador who is hiding them. And yet somehow Affleck manages to stitch it all together with the unerring momentum of the best thrillers.
Shot in the style of the 1970’s thriller (à la Fincher’s Zodiac) Argo is already working our subconscious recognitions even before a word of dialogue is uttered. The signature palette and textured production design of the era brings us back to a simpler time when films worked because of their craft and not because a glossy public relations campaign brainwashes its audiences into thinking it works. It’s a nuanced directorial effort as Affleck moves the drama forward with a soft pace and controls the tension through intelligent framing, cutting, and general discipline as opposed to the big score and hyperactive editing used by so many of today’s paler counterparts.
The actors are first class with John Goodman and the great Alan Arkin excelling as the big shot Hollywood producers called in to make the fake movie project look real. Of the trapped Americans, Clea DuVall and Scoot McNairy do particularly well in capturing the essence of being constantly caught between fear, expectation, and guarded hope for months on end. However, it’s fair to say that Affleck turns in the most substantial acting turn. Yes, he has more to play with but as the dust settles on the final scene there’s a definite sense that he did something substantial here. It’s not a big performance nor is it overtly intense but it’s weighty nonetheless and he puts you in the character’s shoes.
The result of all this is an enthralling and utterly gripping edge-of-your-seat thriller that rewards true movie lovers for the crap we’ve had to sit through as the genre has been badly approximated for nearly two decades now. Moreover, it’s a marker laid down by a hot and young(ish) talent that Hollywood has a new director to whom we can pin our hopes.