Partly Cloudy


Brighten up February with a DVD or two

By Gary Clift

February sometimes seems like the longest month of all. It can be cold. Folks can get isolated. But before cabin fever kicks in, you might want to check out a newly-released DVD of a recent general-release motion picture. There are some interesting ones scheduled out next month.

And a couple of them are really solid movies. One of these is “Argo,” a movie about the Iran Hostage Crisis directed by Ben Affleck. Don’t be put off by the reputation some of his on-screen parts have won him—this is a really good movie.

It dramatizes the events which begin in 1980 with street protesters rushing the U.S. embassy in Tehran and taking the staff hostage. A half dozen American employees managed to sneak out to the Canadian ambassador’s residence. To get into revolutionary Iran, a CIA agent (Affleck) sets up a fake movie production company. Suspense builds as he pretends the hiding Americans are his site-scouting crew and drives them to the airport for a flight out.

I’d like to say that was the best film I saw this autumn. But I think maybe “Skyfall” was. This latest, fully-financed Bond film has style, pace, and lots of good characters, including Javier Bardem as a throw-back goofy villain. Daniel Craig has established himself as OO7, and now we get the shooting of M, the replacement of Q with a kid, and Albert Finney, thrown in gratis by director Sam Mendes. The perfect action picture.

For the sake of contrast, also look at “Alex Cross,” a more old-fashioned shoot ‘em up based on a novel by the much-advertised James Patterson. The movie still works, but it doesn’t have anything like the verve of “Skyfall.” It does have Tyler Perry in men’s clothes playing the title character, a Detroit police detective. He is after a sadistic serial killer who may be targeting Cross’s family.

Less effective—considerably less effective is Robert Zemeckis’s “Flight,” a Denzel Washington movie that can’t decide if recreational drug-taking makes its airline pilot character incompetent or superhuman. The airman, named Whip, lands an airliner with a broken elevator. But he also takes advantage of an alcoholic woman he meets while in the hospital and must face accident investigators interested in his blood alcohol level when he made the incredible emergency landing.

“The Man With the Iron Fists” is one of those odd movies Russell Crowe made last year. It is a fake Hong Kong karate picture directed by rapper RZA. Intentionally derivative. Sometimes vaguely amusing.

The horror movie Sinister features Ethan Hawke as a writer of true crime books. He moves his family into a house associated with a deadly spirit who lives in old home movies and takes possession of children. O.K. stuff of its sort.

A little better than that was “Fun Size,” a landmark-night teen-comedy about two girls who convince two nerds to drive them to the hip Halloween party. This has its moments, but it also has Johnny Knoxville. Jackass alert!

Then there’s “Chasing Mavericks,” a very, very gentle film about a boy who learns to surf some extra big waves, tutored by Gerard Butler. If the movie isn’t exciting, it isn’t offensive either.

Now I’m going out to rent a copy of “Anna Karenina,” the re-make with the Tom Stoppard screenplay. But I may want to see “Skyfall” again as well. Maybe February won’t be quite so dreary as it is some years.

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