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By KAREN MARTIN SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE

This article was published February 22, 2013 at 2:19 a.m.

— Argo

Ben Affleck R, 120 minutes (2012)

Ben Affleck could never find work as a spy - he’s got too much physical presence. Spies need to blend into the scenery, to go unnoticed. That doesn’t happen with Affleck. But it doesn’t mean he doesn’t do a standup job of portraying Tony Mendez, a CIA “exfiltration” specialist who uses his imagination and skills in an attempt to rescue six Americans during the Iran hostage crisis, in the superb thriller Argo. Oh, and he’s also the film’s director.

Based on actual events, Argo gets off to a frantically explosive start when Iranian militants storm the U.S. embassy in Tehran on Nov. 4, 1979, taking 52 Americans hostage. Somehow, in the ensuing chaos, six Americans slip away and find refuge in the home of the Canadian ambassador. Knowing it is only a matter of time before the six are found and likely killed, Mendez comes up with an incredibly risky plan to get them out: Set up a production company consisting of Mendez, Oscar-winning makeup artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and film producer Lester Steigel (Alan Arkin) to film a cheesy Star Wars ripoff named Argo and go to Tehran to scout for locations. Mendez, posing as the film’s co-producer, intends to deliver false Canadian passports and cover stories to the hidden Americans and fly them out a couple of days later disguised as his film crew. The Americans balk at the idea - it sounds crazy and they’re sure they’ll get caught - but options are running out. And Mendez, quiet and confident, is remarkably persuasive, especially when considering that if the “film crew” doesn’t get away, neither will he.

“Affleck has now made three movies - Gone Baby Gone and The Town are the others - and each one of them has displayed a remarkable control of tone and authorial restraint,” says our film critic Philip Martin. “He has emerged as a curator of great taste and sensitivity even as he has worked in blatantly commercial forms. Like Clint Eastwood before him, he seems to have both a deep understanding of the place that movies occupy in our popular culture and a respect for the average American moviegoer. His films are accessible but accomplished, with an artist’s eye for significant detail and emotional freight. Best of all, they are superbly paced.”

Other recent Blu-ray releases:

Flight (R, 138 minutes) - Directed by Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump, Cast Away), Flight takes a hardcore look at the often stereotypical film portrayal of an alcoholic. Denzel Washington plays Whip Whitaker, a commercial airline pilot who somehow lands a fast-falling airplane during a thrilling scene described by Richard Corliss in Time as “the hairiest, scariest, most realistic, and thrilling plane crash in movie history.” But the real story starts when it’s discovered that Whitaker was flying under the influence - and not for the first time. With John Goodman, Don Cheadle, Kelly Reilly, Bruce Greenwood, Melissa Leo and Brian Geraghty. “Flight feels like an event, one whose like we might not see at the movies anytime soon: a real-live star working at the height of his everything,” says critic Wesley Morris in the Boston Globe. The Blu-ray includes a featurette on the creation of the crash scene and highlights from a question and answer session with the cast.

The Insider (R, 155 minutes) - This 1999 drama, now on Blu-ray, features a chubby Russell Crowe as research chemist Jeffrey Wigand, who turns whistle blower on the tobacco industry with a planned appearance on 60 Minutes- which gets pulled off the air at the last minute when pressure is put on the show’s segment producer Lowell Berman (Al Pacino). “At 155 minutes, The Insider may be pumped up, but it’s rarely boring,” says critic J. Hoberman in the Village Voice. “[Director Michael] Mann keeps the pot aboil by stoking the viewer’s sense of a ruthless corporate culture that will stop at nothing to protect itself.”

Top Gun 3D (rating, 110 minutes) - The 1986 hit from director Tony Scott, starring Tom Cruise as Navy hotshot fly boy Pete Mitchell in a story of an elite group of pilots competing to be the best in their class, is available in a remastered Blu-ray 3D/Blu-ray 2D two-disc set.The soundtrack features Berlin’s Oscar-winning “Take My Breath Away” and Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone” (warning: hearing it while viewing the film will get the song stuck in your head). “Watching Top Gun again 25 years after its release is still a dazzling and dizzying experience,” says critic Brian Henry Martin on the website UTV. “You are not so much on the edge of your seat as flung around it as the on-screen action endlessly spins and soars.” With Kelly McGillis, Val Kilmer, Anthony Edwards and Meg Ryan.The Blu-ray 2D includes the film in high definition; a six-part documentary on the making of the movie; a behind-the-scenes featurette; a survival training featurette; interviews with Cruise; four music videos; commentary by producer Jerry Bruckheimer, director Tony Scott and co-screenwriter Jack Epps Jr.; and a look inside the real Top Gun program.

The Terminator (R, 107 minutes) In this remastered version of the groundbreaking 1984 science fiction thriller by James Cameron (The Abyss, Titanic, Avatar), Arnold Schwarzenegger plays an unstoppable robotic assassin sent back in time to kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton, one of the first onscreen females to show off well-muscled arms), whose yet unborn son will become the world’s leader in a coming battle between men and machines. The Bluray includes seven deleted scenes and two featurettes: Creating The Terminator: Visual Effects & Music and Terminator: A Retrospective. “The Terminator is a blazing cinematic comic book, full of virtuoso movie making, terrific momentum, solid performances and a compelling story,” says Variety.

MovieStyle, Pages 31 on 02/22/2013

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