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The Spies Who Play in the Cold: Skyfall and Argo

From Mary Burgan. Email her at mary[AT]borderstan.com.

"Skyfall"The season of new movies is upon us — many in the form of old movies repeating themselves. Hitchcock seems to be back in a bad HBO series and in what looks to be an acceptable film starring Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren.

If originality is what you’re looking for in a movie, you might decide to skip Skyfall, thinking that it’s all the old James Bond movies you’ve ever seen. But most Bond movies – involving at least three familiar, earlier actors — show a much more suave Bond than Skyfall does, and they feature of lot of sex with various bimbos.

The main bedroom scene from the current flick shows how exhausted and un-refreshed Bond is when it’s over, while the woman leaving the bed looks like a tired professional herself.

So although Skyfall promises more sequels, it is unlike many of its predecessors. Its hero seems to show that even being 007 gets stressful and unglamorous in middle age. And as a villain, Javier Bardem is unusually brilliant, and the inevitable Judy Dench finally gets to act a lot, though not for long.

Skyfall is not only different from the other Bond movies, but it provides  a bigger and more nuanced  version of the Bond formula. The fact that it’s been atop the box office lists for the past several weeks, shows that it has pleased many people searching for escape through the inventive use of character as well as special effects.

I don’t usually like the blow-ups in adventure movies, but I have to say that the opening sequences in Skyfall are wonderful.  Nevertheless,  the deadpan of Daniel Craig’s Bond can get tiresome. In contrast, Argo tells a real spy story with complex human beings, such as the one Ben Affleck plays.

Argo reenacts the tale of how a member of the CIA managed to take a half-dozen members of the American embassy staff out of Tehran by pretending that they are the crew for a movie company searching for a desert setting in Iran to make a Sci-Fi movie.

The film spends opening minutes laying out the situation in Iran in the late 1970s. The anger and methods of the young revolutionaries in that period is essential to understanding the dangerous situation of the six Argo hostages who managed to get out of the embassy and take refuge elsewhere. The direction of the mob scenes is so adroit that it should warrant  an Oscar nomination of Affleck for best direction in 2012

Of course, Affleck doctors the facts to make the story imply that  the whole rescue escapade was engineered and carried out by Americans alone, when a number of entities from other nations were actually involved. But despite the heightening of the facts by Affleck, the movie, like his own acting in it, is low-keyed with none of the Bond movie pizzazz.

I like spy movies that have enough intrigue to satisfy my puzzle-working instincts, but also a touch of romance, a bit of glamour, and a sense of the tragedy of always pending betrayals. There are two kinds of film that always tend to satisfy my requirements–movies by Alfred Hitchcock and movies based on the novels of John Le CarrĂ©.  If your tastes are like mine, you could order up one of these on-line — Notorious (1946) or the dark  Spy Who  Came In From the Cold (1965). No explosions or outlandish heroics, but characters that involve and plots that keep you guessing.

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Mary Burgan was the first contributor to Borderstan and writes movie reviews as the Borderstan Movie Fan. She moved to the area in the 1990s to become an association executive after a career as an professor of English Literature. On Sundays you can find her singing in the choir at Saint Augustine Catholic Church on 15th Street NW. Contact her at mary@borderstan.com.

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