Beat Breakdown #1: Argo

Here’s a new series I’m going to take a crack at. It works like this: we’ll start by taking a look at the screenplay of an Oscar-nominated or Oscar-winning feature film, and try to identify and briefly discuss the important beats. Maybe I’ll keep up with this feature, maybe I won’t. I’m just such an unpredictable, free-spirited type of guy, you know?

In any case, today we’ll be taking a look at the the Oscar-winning 2012 political thriller Argo, written by Chris Terrio and directed by Ben Affleck.

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A .pdf of the screenplay can be found here.

PLOT SYNOPSIS

The film opens with the famed attack on the US embassy in Iran in November of 1979. During the attack, fifty embassy staff members are taken hostage, though six manage to escape and hide inside the home of a Canadian ambassador. Meanwhile, CIA exfiltration specialist Tony Mendez, played by Ben Affleck, begins concocting a daring, go-for-broke rescue mission involving secreting the six erstwhile captives out of the country by posing as a film crew scouting for exotic locations.

INCITING INCIDENT

(Pages 1-9) The action begins immediately as a group of angry Iranian activists break down the gate of the American embassy in response to Jimmy Carter’s decision to grant the Shah of Iran asylum during the Iranian Revolution. Instantly, we’re faced with a simple and effective conflict: the bad guys have taken hostages, and the good guys want to get the hostages back. If simplicity is the ultimate sophistication, then this snappy, effective opening might luncheon with the Queen.

PLOT POINT ONE

(Pages 27-44) So things have gone to Hell in a hand basket, as they inevitably must, and Tony Mendez is called to action (literally, on the telephone) to restore the status quo—that is, rescue the hostages before they’re ground up for fertilizer. In what we experts (read: random pleb) refer to as the “Eureka moment,” Mendez is on the phone with his kid one night when he notices Planet of the Apes playing in the background, thus providing the inspiration for the hair-brained scheme that is to follow. From there, we’re treated to a sort of odyssey of colorful characters and clandestine meetings as one-by-one the various specialists are brought on board Fellowship of the Ring style to aid in what would eventually come to be known as the Canadian Caper.

MIDPOINT

(Pages 80-86) As per usual with your standard three-act dramatic structure, things get real bleak real fast in the second act. There’s an almost audible clunk marking the shift of tone between the Happy Hollywood Fun-Time Hour in the first act and the point where we spend the rest of the film with the escapees in Iran, miserable, hunted, and afraid. The juxtaposition between the two, however, is a masterful touch, serving to drive home how high the stakes actually are. Of course, what is a Hollywood film without some good old-fashioned sensationalism? Accordingly, the story has to contrive an excuse for the hostages to go out in public, resulting the bazar sequence, wherein the escapees attract unwanted attention from an antagonistic shopkeeper, nearly blowing their cover in the process.

PLOT POINT TWO

(Pages 87-92) One of the other major plot points takes us back to the States, allowing us to get embroiled in the administrative side of things. There’s an ongoing conflict between Mendez and his supervisor, Bryan Cranston’s Jack O’Donell, who, like any good authority figure in a governmental hierarchy just can’t resist stepping on the toes of his subordinates. O’Donell threatens to shut the operation down on the grounds that it’s too risky, but Mendez is loath to see all of his hard work go to waste. Even with its predictable outcome, this sub-plot is handedly well and its last-minute resolution adds an extra basting of adrenaline to the conclusion.

CRISIS AND CLIMAX

(Pages 95-113) When we talk about the crisis, we’re referring the chain of events, often becoming incrementally tenser, leading up to the climax. The climax itself, however, is the point of no return. Argo’s crisis, that extended and incredibly tense sequence during which the escapees, accompanied by Mendez, waltz their Western-sympathizing selves through a remarkably airtight security checkpoint. For the sake of drama, all the possible ways in which our motley crew can be sniffed-out are avoided or solved at the last possible moment, allowing them hightail it to safety while still retaining possession of their limbs. The climax itself occurs moments later, at the point when their plane actually takes off. The wheels leave the tarmac, the perusing Iranian officials shake their fists with impotent rage, and the audience can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that the six luckiest McGuffins in all of existence got away safely.

DENOUEMENT

(Pages 114-122) It’s wheels-up in Iran: cut to reaction shot of CIA staff members going berserk in celebration. Not exactly original, but it gets the job done, I suppose. As the audience decompresses from the tense excitement of the preceding sequences, we learn which governmental department gets the credit, who has to share, and who’s bummed about it. Moreover, Mendez himself is bestowed certain honors, but owing to the degree of secrecy surrounding the whole enterprise, they’re supposed to be classified. Ah, but surely reuniting with his family after such a close brush with death is enough reward for old Mendez, who we’ve all come to love and respect. So all’s well that ends well, except for the other fifty-two hostages, obviously.

The 5 Worst Films of 2012 (In No Particular Order)

At a certain point, I draw the line. While it is true that many films slink off quietly to die in the grey swamps of mediocrity, and every now and then a truly exceptional specimen will break the surface of stagnation like a glittering marlin, it is also true that a special recognition must be given to those films which are so bad, so gut wrenchingly beyond redemption, that they must be made an example of. Today, we’ll take a look at the absolute nadir of the 2012 cinematic experience. For a variety of reasons, the following films have distinguished themselves as the lowest of the low and represent the creative swill of Hollywood from which I desperately, though not necessarily successfully, search for an escape.

Note: In what is likely a futile attempt to preserve my tissue-thin veneer of pseudo-professionalism, I will only include films that I have actually seen this year.

Snow White and the Huntsman

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Director Rupert Sander’s fairy tale adaptation misses the mark with its uneven pacing, exceptionally lackluster acting, and uninspired writing. Not even a year has passed and I can’t remember a single thing about it besides Kristen Stewart’s scowling face mirroring my own expression of bored exasperation. My question is why this movie needed to exist at all with director Tarsem Singh’s Mirror Mirror already saturating the market with yet another aggressively mediocre Snow White adaptation in 2012.

That’s My Boy

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I have a historically low tolerance for bad comedies. My philosophy is if you’re going to sacrifice depth, plot, and characterization for jokes, I’d better be howling with laughter by the end. Not only is this film blatantly unfunny, it seems to completely misunderstand it’s target audience. Case in point: Right alongside the copious masturbation jokes that would probably cater more to the sensibilities of an 8th grader is a plot-critical appearance by Vanilla Ice of all people, who had a few hits in the early 1990’s (before the ‘supposed’ target audience was even born) before promptly and perhaps mercifully dropping off the face of the Earth. I will never be able to reclaim the two hours of my life that I wasted watching this movie.

Project X

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Why? Why? WHY does this movie exist? Who though it would be a fun or interesting experience to watch a couple of teens metaphorically masturbate for an hour and a half? Crude, dull attempts at humor and an eminently uninspired plot (the climax of which could be seen coming from a mile a way) not to mention an arbitrary and ultimately useless romantic subplot culminate in a pristine example of how not to do a found footage movie.

The Tall Man

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I cannot, for the life of me, remember why I watched this movie to the end. With plot holes the size of moon craters, some truly, truly horrible acting and teaspoon shallow characterization, this film is an embarrassment to the horror genre, and that’s saying something. Attempting, no doubt, to capitalize on the Slender-man craze of 2012, The Tall Man is a shamelessly thrown together piece of trash that literally left me shaking with rage – and not in the good way.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

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If a documentary were to be made about how not to execute a book-to-movie adaptation, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is the prime subject. I believe I tore this film apart when it first came out for being one of the biggest disappointments of the year. God awful CGI, schizophrenic direction, lackluster acting and a vigorous and whole hearted omission of everything that made the book worth reading earns this sorry and frankly upsetting excuse for a film its rightful place on this list.

Andrew’s Most Disappointing Films of 2012

In the midst of all the top ten lists that are coming out, I wanted to take some time to write about the films that I found most disappointing this year. Bear in mind these are not the worst films of the year by any means, but rather films that failed to meet my expectations, or movies that others loved but I didn’t care for.

Skyfall

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The newest addition to the James Bond franchise, Skyfall was heralded as the “movie to reinvent the franchise.”  Needless to say, for me personally, it failed to live up to the hype.  While not a bad film, Skyfall played as a solid big-budget action movie, but never achieved any real level of excellence.  In addition, the peak climactic moment of this film was a huge letdown and a fairly ridiculous way to resolve the film.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Hunger Games

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Although I was very excited for this movie, due in no small part to Jennifer Lawrence, I really cannot see why people thought this movie was so darn great.  It was an action movie with pretty weak action scenes, a love story which was never fleshed out and was merely a poorly executed plot device and many moments that were included only to try and cheaply evoke sympathy in the audience.  And that’s not even mentioning the acting, which in general was pretty awful.  Except for Jennifer Lawrence, she is great.

Rating: 2 out of 5

Moonrise Kingdom

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Now this one may be a little bit controversial because so many people loved this movie, but it really just did not click with me. I actually ended up seeing this movie twice, thinking that I missed something in my first viewing that would have made me fall in love with this film, but sadly I still don’t see the appeal. There were a lot of individual things I did like about the film; I thought it was well acted and certainly funny at parts, but I still would call this one of my least favorite Wes Anderson movies.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Take this Waltz

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Not only one of my biggest disappointments but by far the worst movie I have seen this year.  This movie thinks of itself as a deep and authentic look at a marriage that is put under duress when the wife (Michelle Williams) meets another man.  This movie, which garnered fairly good critical ratings upon its release, plays on all worst elements of indie film making. It was a movie drowning in obnoxious colors, pointless nudity and ridiculous and unbelievable characters, with the exception of Seth Rogan, who seemed to be the only remotely sane person in the film.

Rating: 0.5 out of 5

Gabriel’s Favorite Films of 2012 (So Far)

As the third illustrious member of our merry crew, I’m expected to give you lovely people my three favorite movies of the year, and being the responsible man that I am I’m going to do exactly that. So prepare your minds for some genuine cinematic excellence, and remember to leave all of your comments below.

3. The Cabin in the Woods

There are few films I can say just fill me with pure joy. They reduce me to a state of unadulterated glee from which nothing can take me. Cabin in the Woods is one of these films. It may at first seem like a generic slasher flick, but in reality, it’s one of the most imaginative, creative, and brilliant horror film I’ve seen in years. There’s little more I can say other than that I left the theatre with a smile plastered to my face and in utter awe.

2. Monsieur Lazhar

Monsieur Lazhar is a film about death and the ways we deal with it. It shows us a fourth grade class dealing with the cryptic suicide of their homeroom teacher, and Bachir Lazhar, who takes it upon himself to replace that said teacher. At first glance this may seem like the typical teacher-saves-troubled-kids movie, but it’s much more than that. There is an irrefutable emotional reality here that gives it a profundity found in very few films. I just couldn’t help but be drawn into this touching and beautiful portrait of grief.

1. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

I will not deny the fact that this is a difficult film. At a goliath two and a half hours, it’s hard to imagine how this movie could be worth it. But, I assure you that this will be hands down the greatest experience you will have all year. Under the guise of a conventional police procedural this is actually a remarkable exploration of truth and perception in the face of a morally gray world. Nuri Bilge Ceylan, the director, gives us a film that, on a purely visual level, may even surpass Prometheus. Sure it’s challenging, it’s slow, it’s long, it’s obtuse, but I do not doubt for a moment that the reward is worth the challenge. So if you feel up to it you won’t be disappointed, and if you don’t, well, you’re missing something truly amazing.

Most Anticipated: The Master

Paul Thomas Anderson ranks among my favorite directors of all time. For a reason look no further than his incredible filmography. He’s responsible for masterpieces such as There Will Be Blood, Punch-Drunk Love, and Boogie Nights, and now he wants to make a film about Scientology. Not to mention that he’s casting Philip Seymour Hoffman as a pseudo-L. Ron Hubbard. So, in summation, P. T. Anderson: please take my money now.

Andrew’s Favorite Films of 2012 (So Far)

2012 is almost halfway over, and it seems timely to put up a short list of my favorite movies from the first half out the year. It is important to mention that I am not saying these are the best movies to come out so far, they are just the three films I have enjoyed the most. Feel free to leave your opinions in the comments.

3. Bernie

The most recent film by director Richard Linklater, Bernie tells the true story of small town funeral Bernie Tiede and his relationship with a rich widow, Marjorie Nugent. Funny, smart, and simple, this movie perfectly captures the small town feel of Carthage, Texas while raising some interesting moral questions about justice.  In addition, Jack Black’s portrayal of Bernie Tiede is probably the best role he has had in his entire career.

2. Cabin in the Woods

This is just my kind of movie. In Joss Whedon’s mock horror movie, five oblivious teens take a vacation to a cabin in the woods that goes horribly wrong. A wonderful twist on the classic horror story, this movie offers plenty of laughs, great dialogue and does a perfect job of paying homage to the horror genre while having a few laughs at its expense.

1. Oslo, August 31st

Maybe a controversial pick for my number one, but Oslo, August 31st is just a fantastic film. This Norwegian movie shows a day in the life of a recovering drug addict as he leaves his rehab center to meet with old friends and acquaintances in Olso. A visually impressive and personal film, Oslo, August 31st is a well thought out look at addiction and the effect it really has on an individual and those around him.

Most Anticipated Film of 2012: Looper

The third film from writer and director Rian Johnson, Looper, is my most anticipated movie of the year. After multiple viewings of Brick and The Brothers Bloom, I have grown to love Rian Johnson’s unique directorial style, and I am confident that he will do great things with Looper. The strong cast and kick-ass trailer have further added to my excitement for this film, and I have high hopes that this film will turn out to be spectacular.