Argo is a tense, well-crafted thriller!

Ben Affleck has found his calling…as a director.  With Argo, he makes his third successful film (in my opinion) and shows us an ability to create nail-biting tension and tell tight, fast-paced narrative.  It helps that the story is based on true events and is completely riveting.

Argo walks a fine line between reality and dramatized fiction.  Writer Chris Terrio does an excellent job of telling the story as straight forward as he can, without sentimentality or political agenda.  It is a rescue mission. Period.  Terrio also incorporates humor and much need levity especially in the Hollywood scenes.  It reminds me of old school film making -not flashy or stylized–just good storytelling.

Affleck assembled a strong cast.  John Goodman and Alan Arkin are great together and offer some comic relief.  Bryan Cranston is awesome and NOT underused.  The six diplomats in need of rescue are not explored very much–which could have been issued except that Affleck, smartly, focused the story on his character, CIA operative Tony Mendez.  And although Affleck does a fine job playing Mendez, as a latina I have to ask…”Where there no latino actors that could play…a latino character, Mr. Affleck?”  Just asking.

What really worked for me was the tension.  It was palpable.  There were moments that I found myself on the edge of my seat–whispering directions to the screen.  “Go. Go.”  It was nerve-racking, but in a very good way.  😀

It is also cool that this incident actually took place.  I am always impressed by what the men and women of our covert agencies deal with and do.  Very cool indeed.  Nice when you get to acknowledge one of them and admire his effort.

Colin Farrell is no Arnold and the new Total Recall suffers for it…

Oh, Arnold Schwarzenegger! Little did we know how much we would miss you. Twice they have tried to remake one of your signature roles (let’s not forget the Conan fiasco) and twice they have failed to capture the magic, fun and muscles that made you a mega-star.  Give it up, Hollywood. It is not going to happen and plus, Arnold is coming back (like he promised).

The sad part is that the 1990 Total Recall could have benefited from a modern face lift and the trailer looked promising. The premise is clever enough that writers Kurt Wimmer (who has done some decent stuff that I really like) and Mark Bombach could have created a more realistic, gritty interpretation of the campy, fun original and although they tried–it never quite finds its feet (or mind…or whatever).

The 2012 Total Recall changes a lot of stuff up. There is no Mars, in any way, in this version. The world is darker and gloomier, but not necessarily more interesting. For the first 20 minutes I was hopeful. I liked the new look–the different direction they were taking, but then as it progresses, we are never invested in the dystopian society they have dropped us into. Since the politics of this society play a major motivating factor in the narrative, it feels empty and shallow.  In trying to be serious, they lose all the fun and the small attempts at humor or one-liners falls flat.

Director Len Wiseman, who started the successful, albeit shallow, Underworld series is no stranger to action, but manages somehow to make this bland and a bit boring.  All the sequences have been done and seen before in other sci-films and so…nothing feels fresh or exciting.

That leaves the acting. No one is awful. Actually, these are all capable actors. Well, except Jessica Biel, who is always stiff but not totally horrible.  Colin Farrell is fine, but he does not have much to work with here.  The wasted talent is Bryan Cranston and Bill Nighy–they’re brilliant and unfortunately, they’re not even given the chance to shimmer.  The only shout-out I will give is to Kate Beckinsdale, who is the only character with a clear focus and drive and who can kick some serious ass!

Oh well. They tried to recreate a universe that has been memorably etched in most people’s memories, but they failed to capture the fun and even the innovation that the original achieved. Maybe those who have yet to see Paul Verhoeven‘s 22 year-old classic (wow! that’s crazy!) will find it okay.  But I will quickly recommend for them to go watch Arnold at his prime, as he will dishes out one-liners, blows up stuff and punches Sharon Stone in the face! Yeah…they will definitely have a better time with that version!