J. Edgar [2011)

“I read the news today, oh boy…”

Ever since John Lennon sang those words on Sgt. Pepper‘s (and likely long before that) the news has had the power to depress us.

The power to shock.

The power to put our day into a tailspin.

But can we avoid the news?

And, perhaps more importantly, what is news?

As for avoidance.

Sometimes it is recommended.

To unplug.  To disconnect.

We all hit our saturation points concerning the dissemination of details.

Just what is deemed newsworthy accounts for much of our discomfort in keeping ourselves  abreast.

Even as private citizens.

We want to know the goings-on of the world.

Out of a sense of self-preservation.  To protect our families.

To be prepared.  Informed.  Able to make better decisions (we hope).

Today I made the mistake of digging a little deeper than recently.

And I came across several pieces on the ongoing pizzagate controversy.

I must start by saying that I have not followed this story much since the election.

Indeed, if the allegations are true, it is unfathomably revolting.

But there comes a time when waffling has its benefits.

I will just say that I don’t know what the truth is concerning pizzagate.

I’ve seen the pictures.  I’ve read the names.  I’ve connected the dots.

And now the ball is (back) in the FBI’s court.

[And perhaps that of the NYPD as well]

But it is germane to discuss a parallel matter which bears upon pizzagate.

And that is the coup which Dr. Steve Pieczenik described as having been undertaken by Hillary Clinton and her cabal around the first of November.

Just what was this coup?

Dr. Pieczenik was scant on details.

But perhaps it was the absolving statement of FBI Director James Comey.

And, if we give Mr. Comey the benefit of the doubt (which I’m not sure he deserves), then we might assume that the Clinton coup was largely activated from within the Department of Justice.  In essence, Comey’s boss (Loretta Lynch) could very well have compelled the Director to issue that statement at that particular time.

That would, in some ways, be a significant manifestation of a coup in progress.

Contrary to this was the countercoup of which Dr. Pieczenik spoke.

As I have written previously, this countercoup appears to have been initiated by other branches of the U.S. government (particularly the 16 intelligence agencies).  Dr. Pieczenik seemed to intimate that it was military intelligence in particular which was taking a lead on countering Clinton’s attempted coup.

Beyond these details (and they are vague), I know not much.

But we should return to pizzagate.

We should consider it as a phenomenon which might have several explanations.

Putting all our cards on the table, it is not out of the question that pizzagate was in itself the countercoup.

Which is not to say the allegations are false.

Indeed, it appears that the instigators of the countercoup were working closely with WikiLeaks to prevent Hillary Clinton from stealing an election by leveraging the Department of Justice (and other parts of the executive branch) improperly.

But there is a further possibility.

And I will pose it as a question.

Have we been the targets of a very sophisticated psychological operation?

And even muddier…did this operation save our country?

Investigating a child kidnapping Satanic ritualistic murder pedophile ring is certainly the purview of federal authorities.

The FBI.

But how much has the FBI been compromised?

Any American with at least two brain cells to rub together lost immense confidence in the Bureau in the years following 9/11.

And so history keeps repeating itself.

Sham investigations.  Issues too big to cover.

JFK.  9/11.  A litany forwards and backwards.

But I am beating around the bush.

I want to apologize if I have been less-than-stellar in citing my sources in the practice of my film criticism.

This is not an academic site.

I do not seek peer review.

But I do not lie.

I may jump to conclusions.

And yet, I would fancy myself a fairly astute observer.

Apologizing further, I do not seek to defame anyone.

That would be something too horrible to do (especially with the gravity of the pizzagate allegations).

But information will organically find its level as long as law enforcement is neutered by insiders.

Which brings us to a wonderful film by director Clint Eastwood.

This film covers just what we are talking about.

What is right.  What is wrong.

What methods are appropriate.  What methods are effective.

But at the heart of this controversial film (about a controversial personage) is the idea of serving one’s country.

However, we encounter much here which could fall into the “noble lie” category.

All of that aside, the idea of government service is put in its proper light.

A dirty game, sometimes.  But a noble pursuit.

And so this is less a review of the film J. Edgar and more a letter of THANK YOU to the men and women of the FBI.

Thank you for taking upon yourselves the stress of seeing unspeakable atrocities.

Thank you for taking upon yourselves the stress of following every lead.

But we thank you one further:

thank you for remaining humans.

You know the right thing to do.

Do the right thing.

And we will too.

From the depths of our hearts,

we salute you.

A bit late for all your thankless tasks gone by.

And in advance of your excellence…your leading by example…your adherence to the highest ethics…which we know will be evident in your future work.

-PD

Burn After Reading [2008)

This film just goes to show that intelligence work might best be described in the terms of humor.

A very dark humor.

Half of U.S. intelligence agencies fall under the purview of the Department of Defense:

-Twenty-Fifth Air Force (25 AF) [Air Force intelligence]

-Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM) [Army intelligence]

-Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI)

-Marine Corps Intelligence Activity (MCIA)

-Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA)

-National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA)

-National Reconnaissance Office (NRO)

and

-National Security Agency (NSA)/Central Security Service (CSS)

Then there are those executive departments which oversee two intel services apiece:

-Department of Homeland Security (Coast Guard Intelligence [CGI] and Office of Intelligence and Analysis [I&A])

and

-Department of Justice (Intelligence Branch [IB] of the Federal Bureau of Investigations [FBI] and Office of National Security Intelligence of the Drug Enforcement Administration [DEA])

In addition to these 12 agencies, there are four “peacocks”:

-Central Intelligence Agency (CIA [an independent entity])

-Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence (OICI [of the Department of Energy])

-Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR [of the Department of State])

and finally George Clooney’s armory in Burn After Reading:

-Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence (TFI) [of the Department of Treasury]).

But we must remember that the U.S. Secret Service (USSS) was, until 2003, also part of the Department of Treasury.  Clooney’s character Harry Pfarrar speaks of his previous work protecting diplomats as a “PP”.  Personal protection?  Personnel protection?

Nevertheless, we learn something of which even the other D.C. “natives” in our film seem unaware:  that certain Treasury Department employees carry guns.

This, of course, ends up being a big detail in Burn After Reading.

And so the main thing is to understand the CIA analyst played adeptly here by John Malkovich.

The Balkans Desk.

-Joint Base San Antonio, Texas

-Fort Belvoir, Virginia

-Suitland, Maryland

-Suitland, Maryland?  Or Quantico, Virginia?

-Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, Washington, D.C.

-Fort Belvoir, Virginia

-Chantilly Lace and a Pretty Face, Virginia (oh baby that’s 9/11!)

-and Fort Meade, Maryland

[continuing]

-Anacostia? [D.C.]

-DHS Nebraska Avenue Complex, Washington, D.C.

-J. Edgar Hoover Building [D.C.]

-Arlington County, Virginia? [DEA]

-Langley, Virginia

-James V. Forrestal Building (D.C.) [DoE]

-Foggy Bottom (Harry S. Truman Building) [D.C.]

and

-1500 [sic] Pennsylvania Avenue (USA)

All of this is to say that Osbourne Cox (Malkovich) is “a damned good analyst”.

But forget the “PP”.

Georege Clooney is a U.S. Marshal.  And thus under the Department of Justice umbrella.

Right?

All of this makes me sympathize with the witless Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand) and Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt).

But the funniest part is the repartee between David Rasche and J.K. Simmons over at Langley.

The implication is that a couple of athletic trainers and an alcoholic former analyst (plus a U.S. Marshal) have spun a web of inexplicable disaster even more boneheaded than the Bay of Pigs invasion.

And so it is priceless to hear these two gentlemen speak in tones of which Leo G. Carroll would no doubt have approved.

“We do nothing.”

When in doubt.

Ah, but Zugzwang?

Nein.

Nichts.

Nothing is scarier than a know-nothing.

Completely transparent.

Like water.

The most terrifying mask.

Princeton pulls the trigger in full-on mental illness.

And with a healthy buzz.

Maybe a bathrobe.

Can’t recall.

But felt very Harry Nilsson (if not Brian Wilson) sartorially speaking.

But the best thing is the CIA in the plastic surgery/philanthropy business.

Slushing the funds.  A little churn.

If only.

The absurdity of it all (for the CIA) most accurately can be explained by the Situationism of Guy Debord.

Like snowflakes.  Overlaid onto life views courtesy NRO.

Photo interpretation.

NGA.  Or even an NGO.

Who knows?

Clap on, clap off, the Clapper.  X X

 

-PD

 

Spies Like Us [1985)

Hulu lost me.

Hello Netflix.

Hulu is like an inept intelligence agency.

They had the goods.

The Criterion Collection.

But as that oeuvre was surreptitiously phased out, Hulu was unable to offer any value whatsoever to the thinking person.

And so perhaps it is ironic that my Netflix relationship (no chilling here) starts with a spy spoof of sorts, but make no mistake (as the woeful Barack Obama is wont to say):  this is a very intelligent film.

It was a childhood favorite of mine.

Perhaps I was a strange child.

[no doubt]

But we all want to be James Bond to a certain extent, right?

Details disappear.

Even Putin had his cinema heroes.

Consider the film Щит и меч from 1968.

iMDB seems to fill in where Wikipedia fails.

Because these details tell so much.

To know one’s opponent.

But Vladimir Putin is not our opponent.

As long as our election stands.

Perhaps the answer is Stanislav Lyubshin.

Or was it Oleg Yankovsky?

The real answer is comedy.

Even spies need a laugh.

Spies are humans too.

Spy lives matter.

And so we get the provenance of the Pentagon basement meme.

A favorite of mine.

And this film.

Integral to who I am.

I had a cousin who worked in the Pentagon.

I don’t think she worked in the basement 🙂

But God rest her soul.

She is no longer with us.

And she was the most kind lady perhaps I ever knew.

She served her country.

I believe she did something in the health care field for veterans.

But yes…I identify extensively with Austin Millbarge.

In my own way.

Dan Aykroyd is stellar here as Mr. Millbarge.

And then there’s Emmett Fitz-Hume.

Chevy Chase is at his best in this film as Mr. Fitz-Hume.

Frank Oz is classic in his role as a test monitor.

Yes, Yoda and Miss Piggy were the same person.

How’s that for a mind fuck?

For young know-nothings like myself, this was a likely first exposure to the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).

And it speaks volumes that the DIA “recently” fielded its own band of covert operatives (in direct competition with the CIA).

There is, it seems, a palpable mistrust between the CIA and the U.S. military.

Different cultures.  Actually, a class difference.

[Not to get all Marx here…]

But it’s real.

I can’t define the parameters other than those intuitive, nebulous sentiments just expressed.

It is (very) interesting to note that Dan Aykroyd’s wife Donna Dixon, who stars in this film, was born in Alexandria, Virginia…

Hmmm…

NoVA.

We get Pamir Mountains.

We get Tajikistan.

But before that, we get Pakistan…and Budweiser…and Old El Paso tortilla chips.

And the intel cutout Ace Tomato Co.

And while we’re on the subject of failed businesses (Hulu), we should note that we definitely shan’t be accepting Indra Nooyi’s invitation (“Why don’t you gentlemen have a Pepsi?”) any time soon.

No…we’d much prefer to look at B.B. King’s Jheri curl blowing in the Nevada breeze…or watch Bob Hope “play through” on the Road to Bali.

But let us get back to that old enigmatic chestnut of our youth:  the road to Dushanbe.

“It’s…’Soul Finger’…by…The Bar-Kays.”

“They must be having trouble getting gigs.”

God damn…best line ever!

“Doctor.  Doctor.  Doctor.  Doctor.  Aaaaand Doctor.  Did we miss anyone?”

So many lines in this film which hit just the right mark.

Rarely do I write about screenwriters (it’s the auteur theorist in me), but Dan Aykroyd and his cowriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo (!) Mandel deserve major credit for the quality of Spies Like Us.

And yet, the direction of John Landis is fabulous as well!

Landis is no slouch.

I’ve previously written about the timelessness of Trading Places.

And I am sticking with that assessment.

But let’s take a break here…

Is there anything more lovely than seeing Vanessa Angel emerge from that tent?

Well, at least we get the cultural edification of some Lithuanian dancing to a boombox blasting Stax/Volt goodness around a Stolichnaya campfire 🙂

Back to the essential stand-down aspect of the false flag/stand down.

And for this we will always be indebted to Dr. Steve Pieczenik (and to a far lesser extent Roberta Wohlstetter).

We again refer to the FBI’s 1989 raid of Rocky Flats and the heavily-armed DoE agents guarding that facility.

Perhaps some U.S. Army Rangers are in Michael Chertoff’s not-too-distant future (to name but one grand conspirator).

“Ohh…I’m sorry Paul Wolfowitz!  The correct answer is ‘The Girl Can’t Help It’!!!”

 

-PD

 

 

Conspiracy Theory [1997)

Great courage only manifests itself under conditions of great fear.

And Dr. Steve Pieczenik was right when he wrote recently that the conspiracy theorists have won.

And so it is worth revisiting where we have been.

Worth spicing up the espionage tank with a genuine slice of spookery.

No spoofs here.

Citizen detective reborn.

The Justice Department would do well to revisit this film.

Laughable Loretta Lynch.

And her feckless predecessor Eric Holder.

A travesty of justice.  A mockery.

These two buffoons.

Enter Mel Gibson as the outcast.

Newspaper clippings.

A wizard with a highlighter.

Making copious connections.  Connecting dots with more efficiency and efficacy than Saul Berenson’s wildest pragmatic dreams.

Because of inspiration.  That spark.  Banzai!  Geronimo!!!

She has a dog in the fight.

America.

Back when the Twin Towers were still standing.

A horrible gift.  To be able to see through the news.

To be able to “translate” it at a high level of accuracy.

Patrick Stewart is our Sidney Gottlieb.

And maybe the details are Hollywooded, but they are basically true.

McGill University.  Perhaps he would have made a better Ewen Cameron.

A little Hannibal Lecter escape.

Man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.

The moment I first believed.

Amazing grace.

William Colby.  DCI.  Talking about the CIA’s heart attack gun.

The Church Committee.  1975.

But not all psychiatrists are bad.

Indeed, the most dangerous thing is when they change sides.

Or rather, when their “community” becomes so corrupt that the good guys become a de facto vestige of the original principles…operating outside of the official apparatus.

These would be the patriots like Dr. Pieczenik.

The brave man who called bullshit on the bin Laden “assassination”.

Described by Antoine Marfan in 1896.

You can’t kill a dead man.

But damage control is always as attractive as it is elusive.

And so slimed.  Tagged.  Made.

Conspiracy Theory is not a masterpiece, but it’s an essential film.

Because it comes back to love.  Comes back to the real “why”.

We don’t need Simon Sinek or the RAND Corporation to tell us this.

We just need Mozart.  And Alex Jones.

And we might look in vain for the man behind the curtain.

Because each man (or woman) leads to another man (or woman).

When you meet shameless liars, then you have found the stink.

And if you follow the stench, you get closer to the source of repugnance.

Moments of tenuous trust.

Knowing you’re dealing with actors.

Several layers of reality.

Mine.  Yours.

But you’ve never seen her run!

Julia Roberts.

In a role of which to be proud.

Pretty Woman doesn’t matter.

Make a good film.  Make a statement.  Leave something timeless.

What is this counterintelligence organization?

And where was it when Snowden took a vacation?

We get a black site.

Remember when the FBI had to overcome armed DoE agents at Rocky Flats?

Just like the end of Spies Like Us.

Humor and dead-on detail.

Maybe you only live twice…

But you can do it silently for love.

Love of country.

Love of people.

Devotion to principles worth upholding.

A dirty business.

With some golden hearts here and there.

Well-done, Richard Donner.

 

-PD

Top Secret! [1984)

And so we come full-circle.

As in the olden days.

When we first started.

Writing about spy spoofs.

And this is a doozy!

Val Kilmer’s first film.

As Nick Rivers.

Very much Elvis, but equally Beach Boys (at least on the opening number “Skeet Surfing”).

I would call this style of filmmaking “kitchen sink”.

It was a particular type of American comedy in the 1980s.

Fast jokes.

Set pieces.

Elaborate puns.

General silliness.

The setting is East Germany.

In the time of Markus Wolf and the Stasi.

Wolf retired in 1986.

The year after this film (1985), Vladimir Putin started his KGB career in East Germany.

But let’s talk about more important stuff…like how beautiful Lucy Gutteridge is!

A girl and a gun, said Godard.

And for a sequel, another girl and another gun…

Said I.

Port Said.

Fuad II.

Yes, Ms. Gutteridge plays the stunning Hillary.

Which roughly translates to “she whose breasts defy gravity”.

That’s a direct paraphrase.

What?

We almost get the Lawrence Welk Orchestra doing “Sister Ray”, but Nick Rivers and “Tutti Frutti” is close enough to alienate the visiting Russian operatic singer and his caricature faux-Nazi patron.

General Streck.

Not to be confused with Colonel Sturm or Sergeant Drang.

Jim Abrahams and the Zucker brothers (David and Jerry) strung us along the whole time.

And they directed a fairly decent film here…the triumvirate.

The Nutcracker turns out to be a ballet of literal protrusions.

The prop room is equally literal.

It’s both Joycean and daft.

But I had some genuine chuckles during this film.

They execute a priest as a demonstration.

And his Latin is a knee-slapping litany.

A greatest hits of that dead language.

Legal.  Medical.  String it together.  Make it flow.

Pig Latin.  Cow Latin.  Pidgin Latin.

Yes Elvis.  Yes Beach Boys.  And yes Beatlemania.

Sullivan.  Hysteria.  Hip sway.  Swooning.

Is it a bit of Fritz Lang with the magnifying glass?

Certainly prefigures the backmasking of Twin Peaks.

Swedish as a backwards language.

Like those hidden messages on (back to the) Beatles records.

I want to live in that loft of that Swedish bookstore…

clutching a volume of Strindberg and holding a Ms. Gutteridge.

How could anyone dream of more than two fireplaces at the top of a firehouse pole?

Many references.  The Blue Lagoon.  When Brooke Shields was just 14.

Like the Podestas, we end up next in the script at a pizza restaurant.

(!)

“Straighten Out the Rug” pulls out all the stops…and all the rugs…like Pejman Nozad on vitamins.

An incredibly detailed mock-up of the prison grounds complete with a toy train.

Bovine infiltration.

Eggs Benedict Arnold.

When instead of hollandaise, they’ve secretly replaced the sauce with Folger’s crystal gravy (on loan from the struggling PepsiCo).

While Trump protestors boycott every snack and cranny of this MNE.

But the dénouement is the underwater saloon brawl.

It is actually artful.  Postmodern.  High art in spite of itself.  Dodoism.

We must not forget the yeoman efforts of the great Omar Sharif in this film.

Sadly, Mr. Sharif passed away just this past year in his home country of Egypt.

At least he did not (presumably) need two hours of surgery to wipe the smile off his face.

“Who do you root for in the Virginia Slims tournament?”

“I always root against the heterosexual.”

“Do you know any good, white basketball players?”

“There are no good, white basketball players.”

All of this from the “Match?  Lighter.  Better still.” line which Robert Shaw sweated out of someone to fool his way into James Bond’s presence and trust for a short time…before he chose fish with red wine.

One wonders whether the East Berliners had the jelly-faced joy of seeing this arrogant Hollywood slap at the time of its release?

Most importantly, “kitchen sink” was the style of the ZAZ directors mentioned previously:  Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker.

Kentucky Fried Movie.  Airplane!  The Naked Gun films (with the exception of the last).

This really is a cute film.

And while most of it would have pushed the envelope for 1984, it would almost be a G-rated movie by today’s standards.

Still, there are some jawdropping moments…such as The Anal Intruder (with the Cuisinart on the shelf [in the jailhouse now]).

Turns out the Christopher Atkins character (played by Christopher Villiers) had gotten all the joys of the Russian sailors who rescued him…including sodomy, Karl Marx, Lenin, L. Ron Hubbard, and one more bloke.

And so we wonder…couldn’t the Butthole Surfers have made it into this film?

Just barely.

Three years later they would drop the masterpiece Locust Abortion Technician.

Ah, the Reagan era…

 

-PD

The Imitation Game [2014)

When I started this site, I focused a considerable bit on “spy spoofs” (which I cheekily filed under “espionage”).

But now we return to espionage in a more serious tenor.

Cryptography, to be exact.

Keep in mind, signals must first be intercepted before they can be decrypted.

Encryption–>Key–>Decryption.

Cipher, rather than code.

[or something like that]

And this story of Alan Turing hits all the right settings of the heart.

Indeed, the seeming Asperger’s case Turing makes a particularly prescient observation in this film.

Namely, that deciphering secret messages is very much like linguistic deconstruction.

Or even like its predecessor, structural linguistics.

Finnegans Wake, by my reading, is largely a sensual text of transgression written in a sort of code language which can only be decoded by a sort of Freudian mechanism inherent in minds similarly repressed by circumstances such as censorship.

There were things which James Joyce could not just come right out and say.

Else he would have ended up like Oscar Wilde (or Alan Turing himself) [though Joyce was pretty evidently heterosexual in excelsis].

And so The Imitation Game is a very fine film indeed about Bletchley Park (and, by extension, its successor the GCHQ).

It makes one reconsider that great piece of British classical music the “Enigma Variations” by Elgar.

Perhaps it was Edward’s premonition.

That a homosexual savant would save many lives through dogged determination to solve what was arguably the ultimate puzzle of its time.

Enigma.  James Bond fans will know it as the Lektor Decoder (a sort of substitution…a cipher…le chiffre…a metonym if not a MacGuffin).

“the article appears to be genuine” [stop]

“go ahead with purchase” [stop]

Smooth jazz on the weather channel…heil Hitler.

It’s true.

In Nazi Germany one was to begin and end even every phone call with “Heil Hitler!”.

Stupidity has its drawbacks.

Donald Trump has been skewered roundly by nearly every globalist publication on the planet, but there is power in the words, “You’re fired.”

Turing very soon realized that breaking the Enigma code was not a job for linguists.

It was purely mathematics, applied with imagination.

One of the most crucial actors in this film, Alex Lawther, plays what might be referred to as Boy With Apple.

There is something befitting of the “agony columns” mentioned by Simon Singh in his tome The Code Book about Turing’s backstory.

In the grown-up Alan Turing, we see the affection that man can have for machine…much like a struggling record producer naming his tape machine.

In the rotors there is music…and plenty of calibration to be done.

But the machine must be allowed to work.

And we must help the machine along by giving it hints on those entities which are “safe to ignore” (a sort of semiotics of limiting the fried pursuit of completism).

Love, as it turns out, sinks the Nazis.

Because even among the rank-and-file (or, perhaps, especially among them) there was a humanity which was not snuffed out.

It’s not because Hitler was a vegetarian who loved his dog.

The machine becomes predictive.

Because we tread the same path daily.

In some way.

In most ways.

Few of us are psychogeographical drifters–few bebop our infinitely-unique situations.

And even Coltrane has some signature licks.

Some runs.

Mystical fingerings.  Scriabin arpeggiated.

Then come statistics.

And megadeath notebooks seem less cynical.

Its the same discipline which made W. Edwards Deming a saint in Japan as he resurrected their economy.

The blowback was the quality revolution.

The next in that manga pantheon perhaps Carlos Ghosn.

Yes, we Trump voters are morons.  No doubt.

You must hide the victories among losses.

Where the chess player comes in.

Hugh Alexander.

Twice.

“You could be my enemy/I guess there’s still time”

Or is it NME?

“I’ve got a pi-an-o/I can’t find the C”

Or is it sea?

I salute thee, old ocean.  A quote by Lautreamont.

Or is it Ducasse?

Perhaps it’s why Ezra Pound was institutionalized.

On the grounds of the future Department of Homeland Security?

St. Elizabeths.  Washington, D.C.

When he spilled the beans about the Federal Reserve “System” to Eustace Mullins.

Finnegans.

Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley share a truly touching moment of love.

A passion of minds.

Platonic.  Immortal.

But the breaking is IX.  “Nimrod”…

That austere moment of British greatness.

One of only a handful of UK classical strains which really matter.

Sinopoli does it nicely.  With the Philharmonia.

Only a moron like me would vote for Trump.

To suffer for one’s art.

To turn off the lights and watch the machine come to life.

A miracle of whirligigs and glowing vacuum tubes.

Director Morten Tyldum expresses this ineffable humming solitude in the seventh art.

Cinema.

This dedication.

Dedicated.

And this love.

Which leads both telegraph operator and polymath to tap out the letters of their beloved.

Forever.

 

-PD

Austin Powers in Goldmember [2002)

Nice recovery.

To recap:  first episode, pretty awesome.  Second episode #prettyterrible.  And third episode?

Quite good.

In general, all of the things you may have loved about the Austin Powers debut film return here as progressed elements.

Likewise, the shoddy aspects of episode two are herein absent or otherwise fixed.

I was pleasantly surprised.

Mike Myers recovers some of the real-life mojo he seemingly lost in the shag-a-flopic middle piece.

The character of Goldmember (played by Myers) is a significant improvement upon the generally stale Fat Bastard.

Beyoncé Knowles is pretty darn good in this film as well.

I was skeptical coming in.  Didn’t really know her as an actress.  Only slightly know her music.

But there’s a reason I didn’t know her as an actress.  Because this was her film debut.

Thank you Wikipedia.

Now we’re getting somewhere…

However, perhaps the most genius (evil genius?) dimension of this film is the dream-within-a-dream fourth-wall-destroying cameo sequence of Tom Cruise, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kevin Spacey, and John Travolta (among others).  Lot ‘a Scientologists there…

Continuing:

The big add-on, however, is Michael Caine.  It was really a choice bit of casting to introduce him into the mix.

That said, I’ve been a bit harsh on Mike Myers.  Really, it is formidable that he pulls a Peter Sellers by playing Austin, Dr. Evil, Goldmember, and Fat Bastard in this film.  They are all distinct characters.  In truth, Myers succeeds admirably by way of his talent for dialects.  Dutch is such an odd choice (as a spin on English), but Johan van der Smut (aka Goldmember) is indeed a novel attempt.

888 to you, my friend!

Yes…it’s not coming to the Criterion Collection anytime soon (unless it’s April 1st), but that’s alright.  After a grueling day this might be just the perfect film to make you forget for a moment.

Crack a laugh if you can.

Heartily recommended for James Bond aficionados in need of psychic adjustment.

Or something.

-PD

Johnny English Reborn [2011)

With film reviews, a critic either reviews the film or reviews themselves.  Selves?  Self.

Continuing…  There are two major modes of writing about art.

If I tell you that film was designated the seventh art by Ricciotto Canudo, am I telling you more about film or more about myself?

I would argue that I am trying to flaunt my intellect.

Every once in awhile my brain serves me well.  At other times I am painfully aware of my shortcomings.

And so, Johnny English…not exactly King Lear by Godard.

Nay…  ,,but a near piss-perfect spy spoof.

Piss-perfect?

Now there’s an odd turn of phrase.  Can’t say I’ve thought of that one in awhile.

Really, it makes little sense…unless…drug test?

Who knows…

It’s certainly not timoxeline barbebutenol.  No.  I’m assured by my ever faithful companion Wikipedia that that (2) is a fictional drug.

It does, however, share a molecular formula with two actual drugs:  amobarbital and pentobarbital (respectively).

C11H18N2O3

Yes…

Now<>  If I followed this particular tangent I would be indirectly commenting on the film at hand.

The ostensible “meaning” would be that this film is so devoid of substance that I had been reduced to concocting literary small talk in its absence.

But that is not the case.

And so in the great literary tradition of the Choose Your Own Adventure books, I shall forego the pharmacological flourish and focus on what’s really important.

Johnny English Reborn, while not a masterpiece in the Palme d’Or sense, smashes both the first two Austin Powers films (and indeed its own predecessor) to infinitesimal bits.

[If I allowed myself the indulgence of an aside involving quantum computing and its version of bits (qubits) I would really be showing my arse.]

Because I don’t know quantum computing from linear regressions.  [Figuratively speaking.]

And so I will be plain as day ->  I identify with this film

I know.  It’s sad in a certain way…

“The Great Pretender”…I sometimes think.  I think of Richard Manuel crooning that song with such pain in his heart.

Yes, Levon Helm was right:  the moments that Richard took the spotlight for ballads…those were the real highlights.

“Georgia On My Mind”…

A guy with a great big beard.  As weird and wistful as Brian Wilson in a giant sandbox.

Uhhh…yes.  Where were we?

Johnny English.

Reborn no less…

Indeed, a few things are different here.

First we must thank director Oliver Parker.

This film really holds together.

Lucky for him he had Rowan Atkinson in top form as the title character.

But there are two supporting players who deserve special mention.

The first is Daniel Kaluuya.

Mr. Kaluuya, himself of Ugandan ancestry, fills some very big shoes left vacant by his predecessor Ben Miller.

I really did Miller a disservice by failing to mention his fine performance in the first Johnny English film.

But Kaluuya takes a somewhat different tack.

I may be imagining things, but I get the feeling that Kaluuya was playing this role for all it’s worth (like an athlete or musician with a make-or-break chance).

Sure…films employ multiple takes.  Drop a line?  No problem.  Let’s take it again.

And yet, Kaluuya adds a gentle urgency to this farce by way of truly accomplished thespian abilities.

I certainly hope someone in the film world was paying attention as his filmography does not reflect an appreciation for his immense talents.

And finally, I must mention the redemption of Rosamund Pike (reborn, if you will).

I last left her on my site as a rather tragic villain figure in the actual Bond film Die Another Day.  Mercifully, she does not exit this film with a volume of Sun Tzu shishkababbed flush to bosom.  [What?]

Quite the contrary…for here she is the good guy (girl)…and her acting is as impeccable as her true beauty.

But poor Johnny…poor Rowan Atkinson.

I’ve hardly mentioned him at all.

Must I tell you again what a genius this fellow is?

Perhaps so.

I haven’t been effusive enough regarding a man whose talents are of the most rare kind.

True, born-to-yuck talents.  Born-to-ham.  I would only put him in a race with Roberto Benigni.

Those two.

They are of another era.

Like Peter Sellers.

Like Jacques Tati.

And, of course, back to the fondateur Charlie Chaplin.

The modern world does not embrace this visual sort of humor.

Every once in awhile it reappears.  Benigni wins Best Actor.

And then it’s gone again.

Atkinson, dear boy, if you’re out there on the brainwave wavelengths…

You’ve still got it, old chap!

-PD

Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me [1999)

This one is painful.  No getting around it.

Mike Myers is a very talented guy, but this film is seriously lacking in creativity.

I get it…  The James Bond series is very formulaic, but a spoof franchise can’t afford to be so predictable.

And thus it is little wonder that Austin Powers only lasted three installments.

But to be fair, let’s give this film a chance.

Austin starts out learning that his luck was too good to be true.

Elizabeth Hurley.  Not a professional model until age 29.

Speaks of a certain beauty.  Timeless.

Perhaps.

Daughter of Angela Mary Titt (!)…you can’t make this stuff up.

Bruce Beresford cast Hurley in Aria (1987) [a compilation film which happened to feature a vignette by my idol Jean-Luc Godard].

Aria was her debut.

Ok, enough about Hurley. She’s not in much of this film, but I really did her a disservice by completely failing to mention her performance in the first Austin Powers movie.  Really, she is a fine actress and her contribution to that movie was significant and impressive.

By now you may be noticing that the current film under consideration (installment two) must be quite a clunker for me to be going on about an actress who appears in about ten minutes of this feature.

If you have surmised thusly, you have surmised correctly.

Moving on…

There are moments in this movie when things briefly coalesce.  Dr. Evil’s headquarters atop The Space Needle hosts one such moment.  The schadenfreude I felt as a patron of a particularly lackluster Starbucks (watch the movie) was, in this scene, among the highlights of a rather limp film.

There is, of course, the addition of the 2′ 8″ Verne Troyer in this installment.  Troyer does a fine job as Mini-Me.

Even the Fat Bastard character is entertaining (up to a point).

I suppose that is the M.O. of the Austin Powers franchise: to go beyond the limits of ridiculousness and good taste.

When it works, it’s quite special.  When it doesn’t (as in most of this film), it’s a rather tragic affair.

Unfortunately, Rob Lowe is not really allowed to shine in this film.  His comedic gifts deserved better.

One player who makes the most of her small role is Kristen Johnston.  Kudos to her for making the sport of chess as exciting and bizarre as Marcel Duchamp and Henry Miller would have done had they wound up in this shambles of a film.

And now on to the bright spot of the film:  Heather Graham.

Yes, I know…I know.

Though it’s not as powerful as her breathtaking performance in Boogie Nights, it’s not a bad performance.

No…far from it.

Graham takes the charm of Elizabeth Hurley and ratchets it up a few notches.

But the story…oy vey, the story.  Really, there is no story.  The same story.

It’s pretty sad when a spy spoof is less entertaining than a Bond clunker such as Moonraker.

Back to Graham…anyone who’s dated Adam Ant is alright in my book.

Pushing onwards…

Dr. Evil at least happens upon the perfect name for his doomsday laser:  The Alan Parsons Project.

Like the evil Starbucks Space Needle, it is one of few highlights.

One of the few storyline threads to come through intact is the one involving Powers’ mojo.

Unfortunately, the naïvete of enlightenment which somehow alighted upon the first Austin Powers film is not present here to sustain the promising premise of mojo lost and found.

Strangely, the series itself seemingly lost its mojo in this its sophomore slump.

There’s one final twist at the end involving Fat Bastard.  For a moment the film threatens to redeem itself.

But alas, as they say…

-PD

Johnny English [2003)

What to say…  A witty beginning, perhaps?

An arresting turn of phrase?

No, I shan’t deign preface my critique with decorum.

Rather, one needs must hold steadfast to the cocked-up tone of this talkie in order to convey its essence.

Johnny English.

Take three measures of Peter Sellers in the Pink Panther films, one of Sean Connery in Dr. No, half a measure of Joseph Beuys.  Shake it very well until it’s gasp-inducingly funny (might take quite a bit of shaking, er…), then add a surprisingly adept turn by Natalie Imbruglia.  Right?  Right.

What could go wrong?

Well, in contrast to this film’s beginning, pleasantly little.

It’s true:  the opening credits of this picture have not aged well at all.

They make the kitsch titles of Austin Powers’ first film (which also suffers from clunky mise-en-scène) seem positively polished in comparison.

It’s a shame neither of these spy spoof franchises sprung for a Maurice Binder.

But I digress…

My point is that Johnny English gets better over the course of its 88 minutes.

Coming into this experiment I figured that Rowan Atkinson clearly had the superior comedic chops vs. Mike Myers.

And he does.

But Johnny English suffers from some strange virus of general incompetence.  Something doesn’t quite click in the process of potentially calling the film under review a masterpiece.

Not that I expected as much…

Happily, Johnny English is a tremendously enjoyable flick.

I laughed harder and more earnestly during this picture compared to Austin Powers’ debut, yet Jay Roach delivered a more seamless spy spoof for Myers than the film under consideration.

But let us not throw Peter Howitt under the double-decker quite yet…

Howitt turned in a quite an admirable film.

In actuality, the story of Johnny English is stronger and more convincing than that of Austin Powers:  International Man of Mystery.

But back to comedic chops…  When Mike Myers is good, he’s very good.  When Rowan Atkinson is good, he’s great.

And so, there are moments in this film which I wouldn’t trade for anything in the Austin Powers opener.

I can’t say the converse is true.

Natalie Imbruglia is as good in this film as John Malkovich is bad.

I know, I know…

Sounds impossible…

I have a feeling that Malkovich cherished (in some perverse way) the clunky role he was given.

He plays it as if he’s in a high school musical.

I am not doubting Malkovich’s acting skills.  They are world-class.

Yet, for some reason, he is the acting equivalent of a Styrofoam cup herein.

Imbruglia, on the other hand, amazingly (!) out-acts Elizabeth Hurley.

Notice, if you will, the fact that I did not even mention Hurley in my piece on Austin Powers.

That was because her performance was largely limp.

Sure…she’s exquisitely beautiful.  Yes, she has acting chops…

But Imbruglia took a small role in a cursed film and turned it into a moment in which to really shine.

But but but…

Let’s not get too lost in the praise.

Really this whole thing would be lost at sea were it not for Rowan Atkinson.

He indeed approaches the genius of Harpo Marx.

That is no small feat.

I, for one, wish Atkinson’s oeuvre was larger so that I could devote more attention to his talent.

Perhaps the best is yet to come.

We can certainly hold out such hope!

-PD