Argo (2012)

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A couple of years ago, I had the idea to watch a bunch of Oscar-winning films for the sake of a blog (sound familiar?).  My plan then was far less ambitious in many ways:  I’d just start with the most recent one and work my way back until I got bored of it.  Well, this was where I began.  (Let’s not mention how many films it took me to get bored.)  (It was five.)

Since I generally try to avoid too many plot spoilers before I watch a film (and I’m fortunate enough, even with the most popular ones, to remain largely in the dark about the most basic information about these movies), I tend to enter a film pretty blind.  Watching this the first time through, I struggled a bit to follow what actually happened.  Most of what I know about Iran, even now, comes from Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire.”

So, yeah, I knew that the Iran hostage crisis was a thing, but didn’t understand the circumstances leading up to it or how it played out.  That’s not exactly the story here – instead, it’s the story of six people who escaped the U.S. Embassy in Tehran when it was taken over by an angry mob (what they’re angry about we aren’t privileged to learn).  Seems like maybe not the best idea, wandering out into the crowd, but who am I to judge?

They take refuge at the Canadian Embassy, and since their presence is a secret, cue Ben Affleck to rescue them.  He plays a CIA agent (who in real life is Latino, but let’s not worry about that).  Also, he has a back story about wanting to be a good father or something, which somehow makes him seem even more wooden.  Is this how he acts in every movie?  I’ve seen robots with greater emotional range (Lost in Space robot, I’m looking at you).

Fortunately, he directs a better film than he stars in, with a nice late 70s effect to the film itself.  There are some interesting moments where multiple things are happening at one time – and though it’s a pretty common filmmaking tool, it was successful here in conveying a lot of information in short batches.  Suspense on the whole is well done here – who would have guessed sitting on a plane could be so fraught with tension?

On the other hand, there are definitely moments of manufactured drama.  The Pentagon has called off the mission?  Screw you, I’m doing it anyway!  (Which sounds nice in theory, but not when you need cover from people back home to carry out the plan.)  There’s an unnecessary scene featuring Affleck and a bottle of whiskey, torn by indecision(?) as he contemplates his mission.  At least, you assume this, based on the fact that practically every other movie has featured the same type of scene.

Here I am, a few years later, and apparently on track to finish something I started for once in my life.  Watching so many movies, one after another, makes you start to wonder what differentiates one from another.  I mean, what makes this a Best Picture?  I ask myself that a lot, both on and off this screen.  I keep hoping that I’ll come up with an answer.


Theme:  Whitewashing

First Time Watching?  Actually no.

Final Verdict:  The best bad idea we have


West Side Story (1961)

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If you know nothing else about West Side Story (like, say, your fearless blogger), you know that it’s based on Romeo and Juliet.  Okay, I’m familiar with Shakespeare, so I have a pretty good idea of how this movie is going to go.  Somebody dresses up as a woman (and/or man), everybody gets married in the end, and a Fool sings in rhyming couplets, right?  Just kidding – it’s one of the ones where everyone is brutally murdered, obviously the best choice to set to music.

I know plenty of people who really love this movie, so I came into it with the cautious skepticism that accompanies any viewing of a favorite.  (Basically, I’m always expecting to be disappointed, both in the movie/TV show/whatever and with myself for being so damned contrary).  In past posts, I’ve noted my low to moderate interest in musicals, which is merely to say:  don’t expect me to go crazy here.

From the beginning, I couldn’t help noticing the filmmaker’s deep appreciation of color, as many of them as possible, in fact.  In the overture, I was half-convinced that something had gone horribly wrong with my television set.  Later on, there are moments that suggest someone went a little wild with the Instagram filters.  The Sharks and the Jets conveniently dress themselves in coordinating colors, like uniforms for their respective sports teams, which is honestly what they seemed like more than rival gangs.

Let’s just be real here:  it’s really hard for me to take a musical seriously.  I can’t immerse myself in a story about racism and blood feuds when somebody’s busting out into song every few minutes.  My attention flags quickly in the middle of a number, because I’m just waiting for something else to happen.  And sure, the dance choreography is pretty neat, but it just makes me think of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” more than deeply affecting emotional drama.

This also reminds me a lot of The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton.  These were the sorts of stories that originated in an era when clean-cut preppies faced off against the greasers, and everybody had hilarious nicknames.  Sort of like hipsters versus everybody else today.

Though it’s certainly not the most egregious case of whitewashing in cinematic history, it’s worth noting that Natalie Wood is not, in fact, Puerto Rican.  Does it matter?  Natalie Wood was apparently the child of immigrants, so perhaps she could speak to the immigrant experience in some way.  Or maybe studio execs and America weren’t willing to see an actual Latina woman in a starring movie role in 1961.  How many are there even now?

Speaking of Natalie Wood:  she died in a boating accident in somewhat mysterious circumstances.  Also on that boat was her husband, Robert Wagner, and a man who later became famous for all sorts of other reasons – Christopher Walken.  Random trivia.

What more is there to say about West Side Story?  Well, I watched it.  Another iconic film from the twentieth century, probably on that list of 1000 Films to See Before You Die.  I feel like I’ve checked something off the list of shared human pop cultural references.  No, I am not an alien living among people and pretending to know your ways – that is, our ways.  I am completely normal.


Theme:  Whitewashing

First Time Watching?  Would you believe yes?

Final Verdict:  Let’s negotiate a RUMBLLLLLE!