Richard’s Review: 3 1/2 stars

In “Argo” director and star Ben Affleck has the job of creating edge-of-your-seat tension even though most viewers already know the ending of the story.

The film is based on the Canadian Caper, a covert operation to free six American diplomats after the seizure of their embassy in Tehran in 1979. The movie fleshes out the story with the addition of recently declassified details.

The action begins on November 4, 1979 as Iranian militants invade the U.S. embassy in Tehran, taking 52 of the 58 diplomat hostages. Six managed to escape, making their way to refuge at the home of Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor (Victor Garber).

In the United States the CIA hire Tony Mendez (Ben Afleck), an “exfiltration” expert to smuggle the six out of Iran to safety. With time ticking Mendez concocts a plan that sounds like something from a bad spy movie. He creates false identities for the six Americans and has them pose as a film crew scouting locations for a fake sci-fi flick called “Argo.”

Armed with fake Canadian passports, forged documents and movie storyboards they attempt the daring escape.  From the old-school Warner Bros.’ logo that pops up before the credits to the beards, clothes and 1980s’ vintage footage of Canadian politician Flora MacDonald, “Argo” gets the period details right, which goes a long way to forgive the inauthentic feel of much of the espionage. 

Despite being based in truth, this spy story has the kind of Hollywood feel that reduces the agents to stereotypes such as the world-weary spymaster, the by-the-book boss wielding the “Clipboard of Authority” and hotheaded supervisor. It also reduces the mission to a series of set pieces involving split-second timing and imminent danger. 

“Argo” isn’t “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” and lacks that movie’s nuanced, pensive take on the intelligence racket.

“Argo” is a Hollywood construct directed by Affleck.  Despite its overreliance on well-worn theatrics, “Argo” is pretty good film.  Affleck and John Goodman, (as real-life make-up artist John Chambers, and part time CIA operative) turn in impressive performances. But it is Alan Arkin as Hollywood mogul Lester Siegel who steals the show.

Arkin’s character in this film is flamboyant and injects some real energy into stateside scenes.  “Argo” lacks that dark energy of Affleck’s directorial debut, “Gone Baby Gone,” or the thrills of “The Town.” It’s a solid tale about a real-life event that sounds like it could only happen in the movies.


Richard’s Review: 3 1/2 stars

You can tell a great deal about a movie by the trailers that run before the opening credits. It's a way of marketing upcoming movies to an audience already in the mood for a comedy, or in the case of "Sinister," a horror flick. 

The promos before this Ethan Hawke chiller include "Texas Chainsaw 3D" and the "Silent Hill" sequel, which is set in a "town hell calls home." By the time the opening credits of the main feature have played you are well prepared for the creepy tale that follows. 

Ethan Hawke plays a crime author who hasn’t written a big hit in 10 years. Convinced that he has stumbled on a new real-life mystery that could be a bestseller, he moves his family to a small town and a new house. What he doesn't tell his wife or kids is that the house is actually the scene of the crime the he is investigating. In the attic he discovers a box of home movies that unlock some frightening secrets. 

“Sinister” is a good old-fashioned spooky movie where it is misty at night and things go bump in the night. It mostly makes do without any special effects, which helps add some authentic atmosphere. As we see with this movie, youi don't need CGI to make a horror movie. All you need is some stylish camera work, an anxiety-inducing soundtrack and weird-looking kids with lots of dark eye makeup. 

In some ways “Sinister” is sort like "The Shining's" little brother. Hawke doesn’t chop his way through a door, but he does play a writer driven to extremes by circumstance and the supernatural. 

Hawke is in just about every frame of the film as a desperate author convinced he's on to the story that could revitalize his career – and he and carries it well.

Also interesting are James Ransone as Deputy So-and-So, who adds some unexpected comedic flair when the going gets grim, and Vincent D'Onofrio as the occult specialist. “Sinister” leaves most of the scary stuff to our imaginations, but it builds tension well and will leave moviegoers unsettled.

“Seven Psychopaths”

Richard’s Review: 3 1/2 stars

There have been many movies about writer’s block. So Martin McDonagh, the writer director of “Seven Psychopaths,” isn’t treading new ground here, but he does it entertainingly and with way more guns than you usually find in movies about writers. 

Colin Farrell is Marty, an alcoholic screenwriter whose mental state hovers somewhere between depression and suicide. Marty is artistically blocked and can’t seem to get past the title of his latest screenplay, “Seven Psychopaths.” Trying to pull him out of his funk, his friend Billy (Sam Rockwell) places an ad in the newspaper asking for certified psychopaths to contact Marty. In exchange for their stories he might make them famous in the movie.

Meantime Billy is working a side job with Hans (Christopher Walken), stealing dogs only to “rescue” them for the reward money. The scheme puts all of them in contact with Charlie (Woody Harrelson), a sensitive psychopath who cries at the thought of his lost dog, but doesn’t mind killing people to get it returned.

As you might imagine from a movie titled “Seven Psychopaths,” there is a great deal of antisocial behavior on display. It’s occasionally gruesome -- heads are detached from their bodies, throats are cut. But it is the performance style that you’ll notice.

Rockwell has rarely been this twitchy, but it mostly works here.  Farrell and Harrelson also bring considerable charisma to their roles, but it is Walken who is memorable. 

Everybody loves Walken, and there’s no denying he fills the screen, but his idiosyncratic vocal mannerisms are so exaggerated here it’s almost as if you are watching someone do an impression of the actor, rather than the real thing. He’s entertaining, but his performance here is just inches away from self-parody. 

In a way that’s appropriate for a film that is so inward looking. McDonagh has taken all the bits and pieces of thriller and turned them on their heads. Early on Marty says he doesn’t want his screenplay to be “about guys with guns in their hands.” But the film subverts its own story to make ironic comments on the collaborative nature of filmmaking when not all the creative agree on the story’s direction, plot structure and role of women in action movies.

It almost works except that the cleverness of the idea feels a bit labored in the final third of the film.   “Seven Psychopaths” gets lost in its own idea, but only temporarily. What’s left is solid fun.