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  1. #1
    Senior Member David Vaughn's Avatar
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    Argo (Blu-ray) review

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    Plot
    On November 4, 1979, as the Iranian revolution reaches its boiling point, militants storm the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, taking 52 Americans hostage. But, in the midst of the chaos, six Americans manage to slip away and find refuge in the home of Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor. Knowing it is only a matter of time before the six are found out and likely killed, the Canadian and American governments ask the CIA to intervene. The CIA turns to their top "Exfiltration" specialist, Tony Mendez, to come up with a plan to get the six Americans safely out of the country. A plan so incredible, it could only happen in the movies.

    My thoughts:
    I love movies based around actual events and I have to say that Argo is the best movie I've seen from the 2012 crop of films. While Ben Affleck has never particularly impressed me as an actor, he's proven to be an outstanding director with The Town and takes his craft into the elite category here—despite the Oscar snub for Best Director. From the outset he sets the stage for an intense two hour drama that doesn’t take its foot off the pedal until the credits roll.

    The story has been altered for dramatic effect, but the spirit of the experience is quite evident in that the cover story for getting the six Americans out of the country is 100% true. Tony Mendez is a true American hero's and it's no wonder he's considered one of the top clandestine officers in CIA history. From a film perspective, it has earned numerous awards including Golden Globe's and Critics Choice Awards for Best Picture and Director; Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Cast Performance; the DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement; and BAFTA Awards for Best Film, Director, and Editing. Furthermore, the film has earned seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Alan Arkin) and Best Adapted Screenplay.

    Video 4.5/5
    Other than the occasional ringing, this is an excellent looking Blu-ray. The editing is outstanding as it intersperses actual archive footage from the revolution into the proceedings in order to give the story more street cred. There's a thin layer of film grain that adds authenticity to the cinematography and the color palette and clothing definitely fit time period.

    Audio 5/5
    I didn't expect to be blown away by the audio, but that was certainly the case with the DTS-HD MA 5.1 track. When the riot outside the embassy reaches its full crescendo, my room was alive with the Iranian chants against the US Government. Additionally, when helicopters flew overhead it felt and sounded like they were hovering over my own home—very cool! Not to be left out is the dialog, which is always crystal clear and intelligible and hopefully you'll enjoy the audio as much as I did.

    Special Features:

    • PIP: Eyewitness Account
    • Audio Commentary
    • Rescued from Tehran: We Were There
    • Absolute Authenticity
    • The CIA and Hollywood Connection
    • Escape from Iran: The Hollywood Option





    Conclusion

    I'm not sure whether Argo will win the Oscar for Best Picture, but it's a fantastic piece of cinematic entertainment that keeps you on the edge of your seat from beginning to end. The acting is very good, but the directing and editing are what ultimately sets it apart from other films I've seen from last year. Highly recommended.
    David Vaughn
    Technical Writer/Blu-ray Reviewer
    Sound and Vision Magazine

  2. #2
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    I've heard very good things about this movie, and am looking forward to seeing it soon. I've been very impressed by Ben Affleck's filmmaking to date, and don't expect to be disappointed by Argo.

    However, from what I've heard this movie downplays the part of the Canadians who risked their lives to help get these people out, and at the same time glamorizes the role of the Americans. Note that since 1979, this incident has always been known as "The Canadian Caper" because it was the Canadians who sheltered and protected the American diplomats while the CIA developed the plan to get them out. Also, the Canadian government provided genuine Canadian passports to aid their exit. Ken Taylor was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by US Congress for his assistance to the US citizens.

    To his credit, when Ben Affleck became aware of the controversy, he apologized to former Ambassador Ken Taylor, and changed the postscript to the movie to better recognize the Canadian involvement. I believe the new one says “The involvement of the CIA complemented efforts of the Canadian embassy to free the six held in Tehran. To this day the story stands as an enduring model of international co-operation between governments.”
    speed//

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  3. #3
    Senior Member David Vaughn's Avatar
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    Speed,

    My wife is Canadian, so I don't feel I'm really a biased American with my opinion on this matter, but I personally don't think the role the Canadian's played was downplayed at all. It is said numerous times in the film what Canada was doing for our people and that Taylor and his wife were putting their own lives in jeopardy. Additionally, it was known as "The Canadian Caper" for so long because it wasn't declassified until 1997 to know how big a part the CIA played in the incident. In one of the bonus features, they explain the history of the incident quite well.
    David Vaughn
    Technical Writer/Blu-ray Reviewer
    Sound and Vision Magazine

  4. #4
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    I've only seen this and Life of Pi among the Best Picture categories. I still like Life of Pi better though and I'm not even a big fan of Ang Lee films. Don't get me wrong, Argo is a very good movie too.

  5. #5
    Senior Member David Vaughn's Avatar
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    I won't see Life of Pi until it hits Blu-ray.
    David Vaughn
    Technical Writer/Blu-ray Reviewer
    Sound and Vision Magazine

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by David Vaughn View Post
    Speed,

    My wife is Canadian, so I don't feel I'm really a biased American with my opinion on this matter, but I personally don't think the role the Canadian's played was downplayed at all. It is said numerous times in the film what Canada was doing for our people and that Taylor and his wife were putting their own lives in jeopardy. Additionally, it was known as "The Canadian Caper" for so long because it wasn't declassified until 1997 to know how big a part the CIA played in the incident. In one of the bonus features, they explain the history of the incident quite well.
    Like you, I like to consider myself fairly neutral - although I am Canadian, I have lived in the US, married an American; and unlike many non-Americans, I have a great respect for and love of the US and it's people.

    The Canadian press (potentially biased) has been fairly critical of this element of the film; but even if some of it is true (i.e. that they downplayed the Canadian part to glamourize it for Hollywood) it saddens me, because often a successful movie does become the history lesson for the masses. That said, I will shut up and withhold any further judgement until I see the movie!!! I hope to pick it up today...

    Regards,
    Ayan
    speed//

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  7. #7
    Senior Member David Vaughn's Avatar
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    Ayan,

    Let me know what you think. Not seeing any of this press before the movie resulted in me just enjoying the movie as is. I wonder when I watch it a second time if I'll notice it?
    David Vaughn
    Technical Writer/Blu-ray Reviewer
    Sound and Vision Magazine

  8. #8
    Senior Member Lefisc's Avatar
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    Thanks David for the great review of a great movie. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. The cast was wonderful. And the dialogue was great and very funny at times. It is such a serious movie; people may be surprised just how funny it can be.

    It’s still only a two hour movie, so not everything can be included, but I did not think Canada was forgotten. In real life they did a marvelous job.

    You may not be old enough to remember it, but the group came home, we had Canada Days all over the place. In fact, if you were Canadian you could get into Yankee Stadium free that week! There were signs all over the place saying things such as “We Love You Canada!”

    Spoiler Alert:
    The one thing that bothers me in the plane being chased at the end, which was pure fiction. I know they needed to make an exciting movie, but that was, in the movie, a major event that just didn’t happen.

  9. #9
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    Hey David,
    My wife and I watched Argo tonight, and we really enjoyed the movie. From an entertainment perspective, I felt that Argo was an excellent "heist" flick, and it kept us on the edge of our seats despite knowing the outcome. It's interesting the way some comedic relief was built into the Hollywood parts into what was otherwise supposed to be more of a thriller, but it worked well. I also fully agree with your assessment of the audio and video – it truly is an excellent technical blu-ray.

    Please note that my comments are just my opinion, and everyone is entitled to their own. My intention is not, and has not, been to start a flame war or a “Canadian vs American” thing. I know that my opinion differs from many (most?) “expert” reviewers, but I’m not sure that their opinion is worth any more than mine. I will qualify my comments by repeating that (a) I am Canadian (albeit with strong American ties), and adding (b) I am a history and politics buff. For movies “based on a true story”, I like to see that at the very least the essence of the true story to be captured by the movie, as opposed to one that distorts history in the interest of having a successful movie. I’m fine with some details being changed in the name of artistic license, but a watcher shouldn’t walk away with a significant misconception of what actually occurred.

    As a history buff, I had already read the excellent Wired article “How the CIA Used a Fake Sci-Fi Flick to Rescue Americans From Tehran” as well as a number of other accounts of the actual incident in magazines and newspapers over the years. I have not yet read the books written by Tony Mendez, Robert Wright, or Mark Lijek, but surely will in the coming months.

    I was left disappointed by what could have been, but wasn't - Argo could have been a great dramatic historical piece, providing a full and honest account of what actually happen in this episode. It could have left audiences thinking about the struggles of the Iranian people, the hostages, the "Houseguests", the Canadian hosts, AND the CIA guy that helped them escape. The story of the CIA’s involvement in the incident is one that needed to be told, but in reality it was only one part of the story. It’s sad how often some of the most heroic acts by people in government service end up as classified secrets and are never shared with the public.

    As it turns out, I am disappointed with the treatment of the Canadian involvement. I was shocked to see that John Sheardown was completely absent in the movie - he was the one who extended the offer of protection to the Americans in the first place, and housed half the Houseguests during the whole episode! I also felt that the Taylors (I guess as a composite of the Canadians) were portrayed as well-meaning, but nervous, inn-keepers. Many of the things that the Canadians did to help the Americans escape – getting the airline tickets, scoping out the airport security, flying in and out of the country to really get a handle on the entry/exit process, getting the GENUINE Canadian passports for the six – were either glossed over, or attributed to Tony and the CIA. And despite the post-script, the scenes leading up to the finish (in the CIA office, etc) implied (or even explicitly said) that the credit was "given" to the Canadians as a political move. I understand dramatic license, but as I mentioned in my previous post, I'm sad because the story portrayed in the movie will become history for many. Note that in a recent article (Argo hostage story: Mark Lijek’s true account of fleeing Iran. - Slate Magazine), one of the Houseguests, Mark Lijek, expresses some concern and disappointment in the narrow slice of history presented in the film. (Slate also has some other articles about the historical accuracy of the film)

    I also felt that the movie couldn't really decide what it's position was on the Iranian revolution, but nor did it pose the question to viewers. All of the Iranians (with the single exception of the maid) were portrayed as two-dimensional "bad guys", when in reality not all Iranians agreed with the revolution and many went to great lengths to help foreigners during this difficult time, at great personal risk and sacrifice. At the same time, the voice-over narration only spoke negatively of the Shah's rule, when the reality wasn't quite that simple - despite some of the horrific acts of repression by the dictator, there was a significant improvement in quality of life for most under the secular modernization that occurred under his rule. I recognize that they took a relatively complex story and distilled it down to a two-hour movie, but maybe they could have made the movie that much better if they had given it more time and explored some of these elements. On the other hand, going into deeper areas like this would likely have slowed the fast pace of the movie too much to keep that "heist" feeling.

    Historical liberties aside, I didn't feel that this was a terribly "deep" movie - the character development was relatively light, the storyline predictable (all of the "twists" seemed to have been taken from a "how to make a movie 101" book). The car chase (or should it be 747 chase?) scene at the end was laughable, but I guess it added to the tension.

    Given that one of the films competing against Argo for Best Picture honours is Zero Dark Thirty, it is hard for me not to compare the two. In contrast to my comments on Argo, and despite its own use of artistic license, I feel that ZDT met all my expectations and more. It waded into the whole “enhanced interrogation techniques” debate, but contrary to many reviews, I felt that it did a great job not taking a side, but making the viewer think. The detainees were portrayed as being very human, despite their treatment as animals. The CIA interrogators were portrayed as people whose humanity gets away from them as they do inhumane things with the best of intentions. There were comments critical of the Obama administration, but at the same celebrated them as having the balls to make the call when they needed to. The pacing was excellent (the long 2.5+ hour running time flew by), the acting was great, and the cinematography incredible. Three weeks later my friends and I are still discussing this movie.

    For whatever reason, ZDT seems to be really out of favour right now, and Argo seems to be on a bullet train ride to win Best Picture. In my opinion, Argo was a GOOD movie, but failed on its promise of being a GREAT movie. With the two "docudramas" Argo and Zero Dark Thirty in the running for the Best Picture award (I recognize that Lincoln is also a front runner, likely more so than ZDT at this time), it’s clear in my eyes which of these two is more entitled to be called “Best Picture of 2012”.
    speed//

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  10. #10
    Senior Member k0rww's Avatar
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    speed944,

    That's an impressive and informative article you have written. You make excellent points about the lack of credit to Canada. Whether it was intentional or artistic choice, it's unfortunate.
    Richard

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