28 February 2013
Cinematic Capsules: February 2013
The Good, the Bad, the Weird (2008)
Kim Jee-won's stylish Korean Western is a manic, visual thrill. Ever more outlandish action pieces burst off of the screen. It all becomes a bit too much as the film progresses and its the smaller moments that resonate the most. The film stars Song Kang-ho, whom we saw most recently in a very different type of picture. Here he plays a dimwitted bandit who comes across a treasure map coveted by some of the most dangerous outlaws in the land. The film is obviously indebted to its spaghetti western namesake as well as the rest of Sergio Leone's ouevre but there is another director whose influence outshines the famed Italian director. After a career spent aping Asian cinema, it's interesting to see a film that is inspired by Quentin Tarantino, rather than the other way around. Many shots in The Good, the Bad, the Weird come straight from the Tarantino canon (admittedly some of those may have been lifted in the first place as well.)
Ben Affleck's Argo, based on the true story of a CIA mission to rescue Americans during the Iranian hostage crisis by pretending they're a film crew, is the perfect Oscar movie. That is in the most banal, calculated sense of the term. It is like the film was constructed in a lab or something. The movie mixes the tired depiction of Hollywood as a vacuous cesspool of phoniness and smarm (that industry insiders apparently just gobble up) with the perceived edginess of incorporating a hot button issue (that the film stubbornly refuses to have any sort of meaningful interaction with). From start to finish it is a defiantly middlebrow production. For a thriller Argo isn't bad but there's never any sense of real danger. There is never a shred of doubt that Affleck's CIA operative will deliver the beleagured Americans back home to safety, or that he will reunite with his estranged family, or that the hostage who intially refuses to go along with the harebrained plan will end up being the one who saves the day. The most egregious part of the film is the lack of any sort of personality from any of the Iranian characters. They're all just faceless, angry, perpetually screaming ciphers, boogeymen for the disoriented American viewers to boo and hiss. Even the one Iranian who isn't out solely for the blood of the Great Satan, despite the fact that the we are only ever given evidence to the contrary before an unearned reveal, is sketched so remarkably thin that a perfunctory coda showing her send off feels like a scene from an entirely different film. Why bother?