Knee-jerk review: "Argo"

1. While we admit to having a special fondness for sweaty political thrillers, that doesn't change the fact that this movie is something of a masterpiece.
2. Yeah, you read that right.
3. Who would have thought that a rather bland, smug actor like Ben Affleck could evolve into so confident and efficient a filmmaker?  We loved Gone Baby Gone, liked The Town (it was a little long), but Argo is his finest to date.  It's becoming a fact that if Affleck directed a movie, you know it'll be good.  It just doesn't make sense.  But it's completely true.
4. We knew how this story ended, but the climax was still almost unbearably suspenseful.  
5. Alan Arkin is a national treasure.  Period.
6. Dig those 1979 wardrobes, man.  Plus, everyone smokes!
7. If you want to know more about this dark chapter of American history, read Mark Bowden's Guests of the Ayatollah.  Fascinating, meticulous examination of the experiences of the American hostages.
8. It's hard to imagine people volunteering for these kinds of CIA jobs where it's not an exaggeration to say that they may not come back.
9. The character arc of one of the hostages is completely predictable... and also completely effective.  Sometimes cliches are cliches because they work.
10. The opening sequence depicting the storming of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran is chilling.  
11. Bonus points for employing the old oval "W" 1970s-era Warner Bros. logo to open the movie.
12. We have vague recollections of this whole hostage crisis from when we were kids.  There was always that scary stock image used again and again of the one hostage with the big bandage wrapped around his face as a blindfold.  Those people were held for what seemed like forever to us, with the newscasts happily keeping count of the days in captivity.
13. The film is mostly about the brazen operation to extract ("exfil" in the movie's lingo) the hiding diplomats, but it certainly doesn't shy away from suggesting the complicated, ambiguous nature of American foreign policy in the Middle East and the way old choices can become new problems.
14. "This is the best bad idea we have, sir."
15. Four stars.  Go see it.


Knee-jerk review: AMC's "The Walking Dead"

1. We love zombies.  We just can't believe that so many other people love zombies.  This premiere scored the biggest TV ratings of the season.  Including broadcast networks.  That isn't supposed to happen, not in a world where cable shows must usually be content with tiny ratings.  But this is a monster (pun maybe intended) hit.
2. Who's this cute blonde girl in the group?  We assume she's a Herschel Daughter, but we don't remember seeing her before.  We understand why little Carl would be smitten.  
3. A fairly grim opening, showing our heroes existing in a hollowed-eye state of exhaustion and barely-hanging-on survival.  It looked like little Carl was about to eat dog food, for crying out loud.
4. Could you take a hatchet to someone's leg?  Even if you had to?
5. Lori remains annoying.  We can't even stop ourselves from irrationally blaming her for being pregnant during a zombie outbreak and causing all of this extra trouble for everyone.
6. Doesn't Daryl get tired of pointing that crossbow?  It looks really, really heavy.
7. What's the deal with Michonne's zombie pets?  Is there a purpose other than to look like a bad-ass?
8. At some point, we really should read the comic.  We know that.
9. This was probably the most bloody and gory episode of the whole series.  Exhibit A: that one zombie dude whose skin got peeled off its skull.  Yuck.
10. We were wondering about the ammunition supply.
11. "This isn't a democracy."


Knee-jerk review: ABC's "Nashville"

1. Well, now that was interesting.  
2. It has the hallmarks of a "Desperate Housewives"-style women-centric soap opera, what with the complicated romantic triangles and problems-with-bring-rich hand-wringing and the snarky woman-on-woman insults.  All that plus seedy politics and unrequited love tragedy.  We smell a winner.
3. But there's also a grit and realism here that lends a degree of gravity.  This isn't perhaps the four-star genius "The Good Wife," but it isn't self-conscious fluff.
4. You probably don't have to like country music to enjoy the show, but it certainly helps.
5. And you can imagine the music-license goldmine ABC stands to enjoy if this show takes off and spawns iTunes singles.  The one presumably original song in the pilot was catchy.
6. Honestly, we didn't think Hayden Panettiere had it in her.  She worked it.  Who knew Claire-bear could so convincingly play a maneater?
7. Powers Boothe, as always, cuts a commanding presence, even with the sorta girly cosmetic work he's apparently had done.
8. Makes us want to visit the Bluebird Cafe.
9. Part of the fun is trying to work out which real-life music star the fictional characters are emulating.  If she's Taylor Swift and she's Reba McEntire, then who's the other girl?  That kind of thing.
9. It's a tough lesson in Hollywood: you're only as good as your last project.  What have you done for me lately?  Second tough lesson: there's always someone younger and hungrier waiting backstage.
10. You really can't ask for more from a drama than to feel immersed in a strange world, whether it's the hospital of "ER" or the White House of "The West Wing" or the small-town football locker room of "Friday Night Lights."  This show offers what seems to be a genuine glimpse at the inner workings of the Nashville music scene.  It feels genuine anyway.
11. Connie Britton, it seems, can do no wrong.
12. Bonus points for the involvement of Callie Khouri, screenwriter of one our most favorite films, the brilliant Thelma and Louise.
13. Solid.


Knee-jerk review: CBS' "Elementary"

1. If ever a network was a perfect fit for a Sherlock Holmes "re-imagining," its CBS, a company that never met a string of pretty female corpses it didn't want to build an show around.
2. When you're dealing with Sherlock Holmes, casting the lead character is pretty important.  And Johnny Lee Miller does a pretty good job.  He's clearly having fun.
3. But the show is very... simple.  There are plenty of clever bits where Holmes gets to show off his powers of observation and deduction (and isn't this the same gimmick as "The Mentalist"?), but no real surprises.
4. It's the TV equivalent of a airport paperback.  You know what you're getting and mostly just hope the execution is competent and mildly diverting.  Which it is.
5. The most interesting thing about the show is the suggestion of Holmes and Watson's dark, damaged substance-abuse, foiled-career pasts.
6. Lucy Liu seems to be an acquired taste.  The only thing in which we ever really liked her was "Southland" last season.
7. Don't even get us started on the notion that this outside consultant can have this kind of free reign over NYPD resources.  We don't care how well you know Aidan Quinn.
8. A quietly decent little show, but we get the gist.  We don't have to watch it again to know how it all turns out.