Film Review Round-up – AMERICAN GANGSTER (2007); ARGO (2012); THE ASPHALT JUNGLE (1950); AT THE CIRCUS (1939)

8442765_detAmerican Gangster (2007; USA; Technicolor; 157m) ∗∗∗½  d. Ridley Scott; w. Steven Zaillian; ph. Harris Savides; m. Marc Streitenfeld; ed. Pietro Scalia.  Cast: Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Josh Brolin, Lymari Nadal, Ted Levine, Roger Guenveur Smith, John Hawkes, RZA, Yul Vazquez, Malcolm Goodwin, Ruby Dee, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, John Ortiz, Cuba Gooding Jr., Armand Assante, Idris Elba. In 1970s America, a detective works to bring down the drug empire of Frank Lucas, a heroin kingpin from Manhattan, who is smuggling the drug into the country from the Far East. Straightforward biopic coasts on strong performances from Washington and Crowe and solid direction from Scott despite the stuttering nature of the narrative. Based on the article “The Return of Superfly” by Mark Jacobson. Unrated version runs to 176m. [18]

ArgoArgo (2012; USA; DeLuxe; 120m) ∗∗∗∗  d. Ben Affleck; w. Chris Terrio; ph. Rodrigo Prieto; m. Alexandre Desplat; ed. William Goldenberg.  Cast: Ben Affleck, John Goodman, Bryan Cranston, Taylor Schilling, Chris Messina, Kyle Chandler, Clea DuVall, Alan Arkin, Zeljko Ivanek, Tate Donovan, Titus Welliver, Victor Garber, Adrienne Barbeau, Michael Cassidy, Rory Cochrane. A dramatization of the 1980 joint CIA-Canadian secret operation to extract six fugitive American diplomatic personnel out of revolutionary Iran. Absorbing account of the rescue is brilliantly directed and acted. Occasional lapses into contrivances to create dramatic tension and an unnecassary subplot involving Affleck’s family stop this from being great – but impressive nevertheless.  Won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Writing: Adapted Screenplay (Terrio) and Best Film Editing (Goldenberg). Based on the book “The Master of Disguise” by Tony Mendez and the article “Escape from Tehran” by Joshuah Bearman. Extended cut runs to 130m. [15]

Asphalt JungleThe Asphalt Jungle (1950; USA; B&W; 112m) ∗∗∗∗  d. John Huston; w. Ben Maddow, John Huston; ph. Harold Rosson; m. Miklós Rózsa; ed. George Boemler.  Cast: Sterling Hayden, Louis Calhern, Jean Hagen, James Whitmore, Sam Jaffe, John McIntire, Marc Lawrence, Marilyn Monroe, Barry Kelley, Anthony Caruso, Teresa Celli, William ‘Wee Willie’ Davis, Dorothy Tree, Brad Dexter, John Maxwell. A major heist goes off as planned, until bad luck and double crosses cause everything to unravel. Slick, efficient and highly effective with a strong cast giving excellent performances. Became a major influence on a generation of filmmakers. Debuts of Strother Martin and Jack Warden. Based on the novel by W.R. Burnett. [PG]

At the CircusAt the Circus (1939; USA; B&W; 87m) ∗∗∗½  d. Edward Buzzell; w. Irving Brecher; ph. Leonard Smith; m. Harold Arlen; ed. William H. Terhune.  Cast: Groucho Marx, Chico Marx, Harpo Marx, Kenny Baker, Florence Rice, Eve Arden, Margaret Dumont, Nat Pendleton, Fritz Feld, James Burke, Jerry Maren, Barnett Parker, Mariska Aldrich, Irving Bacon, Willie Best. The Marx Brothers try to help the owner of a circus recover some stolen funds before he finds himself out of a job. Entertaining mix of zany comedy and musical numbers with the Marxes in good form. More controlled than their earlier films but the laughs are still frequent. [U]

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