I used to review movies, first for the Daily Bruin when I was attending UCLA and then for Los Angeles magazine. Even I’m amazed that I could stand to do it for 12 years when, at the end of each year, I was hard-pressed to come up with a list of the 10 Best. To be perfectly frank, my list usually had three or four pretty good ones, another few that were OK, and two or three that were, at most, preferable to undergoing a prostate exam.
Still, I will state that I had a far easier task than those who have to sit through movies these days and file reports on the experience. For one thing, people like Billy Wilder, William Wyler, John Huston and Alfred Hitchcock were still making movies back then. Today, you’ve got James Cameron, Wes Anderson, Steven Spielberg and Kathryn Bigelow, and Hollywood is actually handing out Oscars to the likes of “The Hurt Locker,” “Forrest Gump,” “Crash,” “The English Patient,” “No Country for Old Men” and “Titanic.”
Another problem with the movies is that apparently inside every funny man is a heartthrob yearning to get out. So it was that Burt Reynolds tried to be Clark Gable, Eddie Murphy decided to quit trying for laughs in his attempt to be Billy Dee Williams, and Ben Stiller, for some really odd reason, apparently had his heart set on being some cadaver-like, hollow-cheeked fellow. Perhaps a Jewish Richard Widmark. It may have helped these guys get girls, but it only served to remind people how much better the originals were.
Nobody knows better than I that when it comes to movies, only our taste in food and drink tends to be nearly as subjective. For instance, I have no favorites when it comes to war movies. I simply don’t care for them. It’s not that I object to violence in movies, either, because two of my all-time favorite films are “The Godfather” and “The Untouchables.”
Another genre that rarely holds any appeal for me is Westerns. But at least I have enjoyed some of them, although it pains me to confess that none of them were directed by John Ford. The seven I have liked are “Destry Rides Again,” “The Westerner,” “Red River,” “High Noon,” “Shane,” “Support Your Local Sheriff” and “Quigley Down Under.” I just noticed that although John Wayne only appeared in one of them and Gary Cooper in two, Walter Brennan had feature roles in three of the seven.
This brings us to the last movie I saw, the highly acclaimed “Argo.” The film deals with the rescue of the six American foreign-service employees who evaded capture by the Ayatollah Khomeini’s thugs in Iran, back in 1979, by hiding out in the home of Canada’s ambassador.
It seems that the State Department considered getting them out by smuggling in bicycles and then having them pedal their way to safety through angry mobs to Iraq, a mere 300 miles away. That made about as much sense as donning Dorothy’s ruby red slippers and clicking their heels, while repeating “There’s no place like home.”
The plan the CIA finally put in place didn’t seem a great deal more plausible. It consisted of pretending to scout Iran as the site for a Canadian sci-fi movie called “Argo,” and smuggling out the six hostages, passing them off as members of the film crew.
The problem for me is that the movie started out pretty funny, thanks to John Goodman and Alan Arkin as the producers of “Argo,” and it had a pretty exciting conclusion. But in between, the movie was all filler, killing time until the final escape mainly by showing the hostages griping about having to remain indoors and their CIA rescuer, portrayed by the film’s actual director, Ben Affleck, boozing a lot and looking worried. The middle hour of the movie is so boring, it will put your teeth to sleep.
Frankly, I don’t know why anyone sets out to make suspenseful movies based on actual events. I mean, really, how suspenseful can any movie be when you know how everything turns out ahead of time? I would say that “Apollo 13” made a pretty good stab at it. But I never understood why the novel “Day of the Jackal” was so successful or why it led to not one, but two movie versions. Did anyone actually think the Jackal was going to assassinate Charles De Gaulle? Well, maybe Democrats did. For one thing, they don’t know their history. For another, they’ll believe just about anything.
Another thing that annoyed me about “Argo” is that prior to the closing credits, there was writing on the screen that brought you up to date on some of the characters. One of the things mentioned was that the following year, on Jan. 20, 1981, the remaining hostages were released by Iran after 444 days in captivity.
What it failed to point out was that it was the very day that Jimmy Carter left the White House and Ronald Reagan took up residence. Anybody who believes that was a mere coincidence no doubt believes that Barack Obama is just the guy to stop Iran from getting its dirty mitts on a nuclear bomb.