Friday movie roundup: The true-life thrills of "Argo"
It's a busy weekend at Utah movie theaters, with nine new films opening and the best of them is a sure Oscar contender.
"Argo" is an exciting thriller that melds spy intrigue with human-scaled drama and Hollywood-industry comedy. It's a true story, set in 1980 during the Iranian hostage crisis, when a CIA agent (played by Ben Affleck) proposes a daring plan to rescue six American workers who escaped the embassy invasion and hid out with the Canadian ambassador (Victor Garber). The plot involves posing as a Hollywood producer scouting locations in Iran for a never-to-be-made science-fiction movie. Affleck directs the film, cementing his reputation for creating gritty, tension-filled drama.
"Here Comes the Boom" stars Kevin James as a high-school teacher who becomes a mixed martial-arts fighter to raise money to save his school's music program. It's silly, as you might expect from the star of "Zookeeper," but it's also surprisingly sweet. (Read The Cricket's interview with Kevin James.)
"Seven Psychopaths" is a clever and violent gangster movie, in which director-writer Martin McDonagh ("In Bruges") subverts the cliches of the genre brilliantly. His main character is an alcoholic Irish screenwriter (Colin Farrell) who gets drawn into the world of L.A. gangsters, thanks to his manic actor pal (Sam Rockwell) ticking off a semi-insane mobster (Woody Harrelson). Oh, and Christopher Walken steals the show as a peace-loving con man. What more could you want?
The horror thriller "Sinister" stars Ethan Hawke as a true-crime writer who investigates a family massacre and uncovers evidence of a supernatural presence a ghostly figure that soon starts terrorizing Hawke and his family. The movie starts off thrilling, but ends up just as a depressingly creepy downer.
One more wide-release movie: "Atlas Shrugged, Part II," the continuation of the adaptation of conservative icon Ayn Rand's novel. It was not screened for critics.
Topping the art-house list is "Chicken With Plums," a lyrical fantasy drama from Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud, the team behind the animated "Persepolis." This is a live-action tale, about a Persian violinist (Mathieu Amalric) who loses his taste for life and decides to die in his bed. The story is touching, and the visuals are beautiful.
Two documentaries open this week: "Searching for Sugar Man" tells of a '70s U.S. rock star who disappeared from the scene, and became a surprise star in South Africa but the story is better than the film telling it. And And "Samsara" is a gorgeously photographed look at natural and industrial scenes around the world, from the makers of "Baraka."
Lastly, the Tower is playing "Stars in Shorts," a compilation of short films featuring such big-name actors as Colin Firth, Judi Dench and Julia Stiles. Like most compilations of this sort, some shorts are better than others.