February 18, 2013

Just in time for the Oscars, Argo is out on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital download tomorrow. This is the first time I got to see it, and it’s a terrific movie, well worth watching.

You’ve probably heard the story — when the American embassy fell in Iran and the hostages were taken, six staffers made it out and took shelter in the Canadian embassy. The CIA then had to figure out how to get those six out of the country. Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck, who looks good in 70s hair and beard) came up with the idea of creating a fake production company making a science fiction movie (based on Jack Kirby art, although it’s redrawn for this movie) and saying the six were staffers on a location scouting trip.

I appreciated the details. The opening Warner Bros. logo is the W-in-rounded-square they used in the 70s. I also appreciated the flashback opening, catching us up on Iran’s history. That it combines newsreel footage with storyboards makes it a great choice for this film, which combines a true story with dramatics. Not that it needed them — the early flyby shot of crowds surrounding the US embassy is chilling just in the number of people it shows. This movie grabbed me from the beginning and didn’t let go.

I don’t remember the hostage crisis, although I would have seen it on the news, and I’m glad I don’t. The period news footage, with a young Tom Brokaw and Ted Koppel, brought back memories, though. The suits, the ties, the hair … it all seems so long ago, although the international challenge is very timely. The movie is full of people that made me say, “Oh, I know him!” Victor Garber. Titus Welliver. Kyle Chandler. Richard Kind. Bob Gunton. It’s cut tightly and yet knows when to let silence speak.

Kerry Bishé, Scoot McNairy, Christopher Denham, Tate Donovan, Rory Cochrane, and Clea DuVall in Argo

Kerry Bishé, Scoot McNairy, Christopher Denham, Tate Donovan, Rory Cochrane, and Clea DuVall in Argo

I loved the Hollywood sniping. “If I’m doing a fake movie, it’s gonna be a fake hit,” says Alan Arkin as a crazy-like-a-fox producer. It’s fascinating to see how quickly a movie can seem like a real project — all you need is a script and a few trade ads. John Goodman is the makeup artist who brings Mendez and Arkin’s character together (and does work every so often for the CIA, which leads to all kinds of speculation in my mind). The dark humor is a welcome change from the life-and-death tension, although Affleck (as director) does an excellent job switching from one to the other at the right time. I both laughed out loud and bit my nails over the suspense.

John Goodman, Alan Arkin, and Ben Affleck in Argo

John Goodman, Alan Arkin, and Ben Affleck in Argo

About the only criticism I had of the movie was the melodramatic car chase at the airport, which deviates from real life. I’m not sure the film needed screeching tires at that point, since it’s already dramatic enough. It’s the fastest two hours I’ve spent watching a movie in a long while. Oddly, it reminds me of the best films of the 70s in the way it’s a movie for adults about a serious issue but still immensely entertaining. Argo is a must-see, and I hope it wins the Academy Award.

Pretending to be a film crew in Argo

Pretending to be a film crew in Argo

Special Features

There are two movie-length extras, a commentary with Ben Affleck and writer Chris Terrio, and a picture-in-picture “Eyewitness Account”. The latter is amazing — it features Mendez himself, President Jimmy Carter, Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor (the guy who hosted the six “house guests”), the actual escapees, a former hostage, and others talking about the real history behind the events shown in the film. It’s the perfect thing to watch after seeing the film.

Ben Affleck as a CIA agent in Argo

Ben Affleck as a CIA agent in Argo

There are four additional extras:

  • Rescued From Tehran: We Were There (17 minutes) — Many of the participants in the Eyewitness track sum up the historical events in different interview segments, intercut with movie clips.
  • Argo: Absolute Authenticity (11 1/2 minutes) — A behind-the-scenes look at the movie’s design, research work, and actor preparation.
  • Argo: The CIA & Hollywood Connection (6 minutes) — A little information on John Chambers, the makeup artist, and the Argo film.
  • Escape From Iran: The Hollywood Option (46 1/2 minutes) — Canadian documentary made in 2005 for the 25th anniversary of the events.

The only extra on the DVD is “Rescued From Tehran: We Were There”. The Blu-ray comes with a DVD copy. Both the Blu-ray and DVD come with an UltraViolet copy. There are several great clips provided by Warner available on YouTube. (The studio provided a review copy.)

6 Responses  
Dwight Williams writes:  

I understand that Ken Taylor’s made a deal to get his own understanding of the whole story to the movie theatres. That may be the best summation of our reaction to Argo up here in Canada.

Didn’t know that one of our documentaries already made on the subject had gotten tacked onto the Blu-Ray release, though…

Ralf Haring writes:  

I enjoyed the movie, but I was a bit surprised at the amount of praise it received. I think it was competent and a pleasant way to spend two hours but not superlative. I only saw three of the ten nominees this year, though, (and only want to see two of the other seven) so it seems I’m out of sync this time around.

The second commentary with the principals does sound like a superb extra. It’s the kind of thing you rarely find on dvds these days.

Johanna writes:  

I think it’s the kind of skilled movie that’s not made much any more — that combines artistry and entertainment and a point of view. I’m sure many of the other nominees were well-made, but they weren’t calling me out to see them. (Silver Linings Playbook is the only other one I’m hoping to catch soon.) I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it, and that’s rare, at least for me.

Jamie Coville writes:  

I enjoyed the movie, but the comic book fan in me wanted to see more Jack Kirby. I’m a little surprised (and miffed I guess) that there wasn’t any extra’s about Jack Kirby and the art used, especially when it was so prominently featured at the very end.

Richard J. Marcej writes:  

Maybe it’s because of the political subject matter, 1970’s look of course and soundtrack, but “Argo” has the same feel as all of those great political thrillers of the 70’s had (“All The President’s Men”, “Network”, etc…). Like it’s 70’s counterparts “Argo” doesn’t waste any scene, there isn’t any padding or tacked on unnecessary action scenes. I believe that’s what set it apart from many of the other films that came out in 2012. As I wrote and drew in my comic here: http://www.theblabbingbaboon.com/?p=3081 the best thing (IMO) about “Argo” is, even though you know how the story ends, you actually find your self on the edge of your seat at it’s conclusion.

Argo: The Declassified Extended Edition » DVDs Worth Watching writes:  

[…] new, extras-added release of Argo, last year’s best picture Oscar winner. I’ve already reviewed the film, recommending it as “terrific”, so here, I’ll just concentrate on the additions […]


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