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By Brahma Chellaney
Beijing's creeping aggression signals a challenge to U.S. presence in the Asian Pacific
Independent voices from the The Washington Times Communities
Topic - James Ponsoldt
Associated Press journalists open their notebooks at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah:
"Smashed," a slight, tenderhearted film about a hard-drinking young woman who risks her marriage to try to get sober, is presented in a series of compelling, darkly comic vignettes. While the film gives some elements of this tale the short shrift in an effort to keep to its brisk pace, the performance from its lead is so magnetic and true that it scarcely matters.
"Argo" _ A movie about the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis probably doesn't sound like it would be a laugh riot _ or should be _ but that's just one of the many ways in which this is a glorious, gripping surprise. Directing his third feature, Ben Affleck has come up with a seamless blend of detailed international drama and breathtaking suspense, with just the right amount of dry humor to provide context and levity. He shows a deft handling of tone, especially in making difficult transitions between scenes in Tehran, Washington and Hollywood, but also gives one of his strongest performances yet in front of the camera as the film's star. It's exciting to see the confidence with which Affleck expands his ambition and scope as a filmmaker. "Argo" reveals his further mastery of pacing and storytelling, even as he juggles complicated set pieces, various locations and a cast featuring 120 speaking parts. And the story he's telling sounds impossible, but it's absolutely true (with a few third-act tweaks to magnify the drama). When protestors stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran, taking 52 people hostage, six employees sneaked out a back door and sought refuge at the home of Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor (Victor Garber). Longtime CIA operative Tony Mendez (Affleck) comes up with a crazy scheme to rescue them: He'll fly to Tehran, pretend that they all entered the country together to scout locations for a schlocky sci-fi movie called "Argo," then walk right out the front door with them and fly home. Bryan Cranston, John Goodman and Alan Arkin are among the excellent supporting cast. R for language and some violent images. 120 minutes. Four stars out of four.
The title "Smashed" refers not so much to the nearly perpetual state of inebriation that a young husband and wife put themselves in but rather to the way the wife finds her existence truly shattered when she tries to get sober.