Quantum of Solace [2008)

Early.  “Dame” Judi Dench.  Threat of extraordinary rendition.  Not cool.

Doesn’t seem to bode well.  Are we about to be served a helping of steaming-shit propaganda?

No.  Not quite.  Thank heavens!

Earlier.  Another fucking car chase.  God damn it, if I wanted to watch Top Gear I’d have stayed home with a cup of PG Tips!

But by the grace of all that’s good and right in the world (hyperbole watch), Marc Forster has done the impossible:  a good (not great) follow-up to the best Bond film of all-time.

As of 2006.

Tagged banknotes.  D. B. Cooper.  An alias.  It was 1973 when this bizarre skyjacking took place in the Pacific Northwest.  The FBI had the forethought to make a microfilm photograph of all of the ransom money turned over to Mr. Cooper.  That’s a lot of photographs in a short amount of time, don’t you think?  10,000 unmarked 20-dollar bills. L.  Federal Reserve.  San Francisco.  Series 1969-C.  In a matter of hours…10,000 individual photographs?

By 2008, we doubt such modes of tracking considerably less.  And so, by hook and crook, we end up in Haiti.  This is where we first meet Olga Kurylenko.  Bolivian Intelligence.

And then the subtle subplots come in waves.  We are shown the duplicity of the CIA.  To wit, a CIA which is deceiving its partners the MI6.

It is all so very applicable to the adventures of one Ms. Victoria Nuland.  But it goes all the way back (at least) to the ouster of one Mr. Mosaddegh in 1953.  Particularly, it extends to the present allegations of U.S. military (and contractors) raping children in Colombia.  It goes to the adventures of one Mr. George Soros.  It leads right up to the ridiculous pronouncement of Venezuela as a threat to American national security.

Nisman.  Nemtsov.  Shady activities to undermine democracy in Argentina and Brazil.  Warnings from Ecuador that American intelligence is attempting to overthrow any government which does not declare fealty to the United Corporations of America.

We will eventually get to Russia…or they will get to us.

São Paulo.  Veolia Environnement.  Suez Environnement.  Water.  Drought.

We tend to view very few world events as accidents anymore (knowing what we know about history).  It was 9/11 which taught us that things aren’t always what they seem.  And as we dug deeper into declassified documents, we realized how long this charade has been going on.  And now, with immensely powerful technology at their fingertips, the most unscrupulous world leaders are in a position to stage just about anything (with a little help from the military component of their industrial complex).

I must hand it to director Forster:  though the earpieces were brilliant, it was the strains of Tosca which made the mute shootout so artful.

Another soft undercurrent:  a Special Branch bodyguard protecting a member of an international crime syndicate.  No wonder the work of intelligence agencies is so difficult!  Politicians make deals with unsavory characters and thereby endanger the safety and futures of their citizens.  Oh, sure…we are made to believe that this is all in the process of pursuing the lesser of evils, but as Mary Parker Follett said, “Authority should go with knowledge…whether it is up the line or down.”  That means that in many cases, politicians should get out of the way of the NSA, CIA, MI6, etc.

It’s a shame Strawberry Fields couldn’t remain with us longer.  At least she gets a good trip in! Her death, however, is a rather unimaginative twist on Goldfinger.  Nice try, gents.

But all is forgiven because of the Mathis death which precedes this.  When seeing the old agent dead in a dumpster from a high, circumspect vantage point, we think of Bill Buckley in Beirut and even the strange death of John P. Wheeler III.  We think of the MITRE Corporation.  We wonder about all those filthy neocon roaches that have managed to keep their clawed positions in government (Nuland). But mostly we realize that death in a dumpster is the true romanticism of being a secret agent.  This is the disconnect between reality and fiction:  James Bond will never end up dead in a dumpster.  He is, actor by actor, immortal.  Or rather, his lifespan depends on the British-American power which persists.

If the Russians were to win, we might be seeing more Stierlitz films.  Though Vyacheslav Tikhonov and Georgiy Zhzhonov are gone, that spirit would procede.

In James Bond we have the remnants of the British Empire (and the American spoils of WWII known as Hollywood).

In Quantum of Solace we again find the trend which started at least as early as the excellent License to Kill (1989):  divine insubordination.  You do not have to obey an unjust order.  An unjust law is no law at all.  St. Thomas Aquinas (from St. Augustine).  Natural law.

Jeffrey Wright displays this admirably in his portrayal of CIA agent Felix Leiter.  And of course Daniel Craig as Bond…the epitome of insubordination.  Bond can get away with it because he is that talented.  Few are these mythical supermen.

Forster manages a touchingly real moment when Craig shields and comforts Kurylenko amid the flashback flames.  It reminds us of Bond’s humanity in the egg-shell poignant scene of Casino Royale when Craig joins Eva Green beneath the interminably therapeutic cascade of a distraught shower…sitting down, fully clothed…that distant, vacant look of fear in her eyes as she shivers.

And with this we congratulate the James Bond producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli for stringing together these two films in such a genius manner.

We end in Kazan.  Not Elia Kazan.  May God spare us the dick-measuring contest of Minuteman III and Topol-M.

-PD

In Like Flint [1967)

It all started with Errol Flynn.  Flynn, accused of statutory rape by two under-age girls in November 1942 was defended by (among others)  the American Boys’ Club for the Defense of Errol Flynn.  That’s right:  ABCDEF.  One member of the organization was William F. Buckley, Jr.  Ah Buckley…not the heroic Bill Buckley who died in Beirut (after helping to expose Project MKUltra).  Nay, we speak of the harpsichord man.  The Knight of Malta (like Ronald Reagan). 

In 1943 (that is, the next year) the Buckley in question would go from ABCDEF (Z.O.W.I.E. anyone?) to being a student at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.  After a short stay, he entered (?) WWII out of U.S. Army Officer Candidate School and soon enough (at war’s end) was at Yale and in the loving arms of Skull and Bones (being a member in good standing). 

Buckley was recruited by the CIA in 1951.  The story goes that he served just two years, but strikingly one of those two was back in Mexico City as a “political action specialist” in the Special Activities Division under E. Howard Hunt.

Now there’s a name…  Hunt, along with G. Gordon Liddy (what is it with these guys and first initials?), engineered the first Watergate burglary on behalf of President Richard Nixon and his administration.  That is to say:  in 1972 the President of the United States of America’s “people” broke into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee.  In on this whole thing was another fellow keen on the aforementioned self-referent nomenclature:  L. Patrick Gray (the acting head of the FBI at the time).

This immense tangent serves to set the stage for what is not really that great a movie:  In Like Flint.  Yes, the phrase is thought to have originated in reference to good old Errol Flynn (the demigod [not to be confused with demagogue] of our friends the ABCDEF).

All of this is to say that the “plot” of In Like Flint is beyond fanciful (and utterly jaw-dropping in its dated sexism).  Yet, every day the machinations of strange organizations with nefarious plans swirl around us in orbits mostly unnoticed.

I must say that I preferred the direction of Daniel Mann’s Our Man Flint to the staging here of Gordon Douglas.  Don’t get me wrong:  there are some priceless moments herein.  At one point James Coburn utters the phrase “an actor as President…” (as if the whole thing seemed too preposterous to be real).  Of course the U.S. would go on to actually have an actor as President when Reagan assumed the position for the majority of the 1980s.

The tape recorders in hair dryers idea bears a spooky resemblance to what the other Bill Buckley observed at McGill University in Montreal (under the horrific guidance of Dr. Ewen Cameron):  that is to say MKUltra. 

More light-hearted is Coburn’s hilarious “dolphin talk” near the top of the film.  Fans of The Illuminatus Trilogy will doubtless find this particularly poignant. 

Spy Chief Framed As Libertine…  This brings to mind the strange case of Gen. David Petraeus.  In the film, intelligence (?) chief Lloyd Cramden is stoned and dethroned in just such a manner by a junta of which Gen. Carter is head.  Once again Flint shows his boundless talents (including a stint as hypnotist and another as a ballet dancer).  Rahm Emanuel would surely be proud.  Leave it to the polymath Flint to deduce female cosmonauts from a cardiograph (80 BPM) on Earth. 

Coburn as a Cuban is definitely a knee-slapper.  And there is plenty of eye candy (as in the appropriately-named Operation Smooch).  All in all this is great downtime for spy and enthusiast alike.

-PD 

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service [1969)

Lazenby.

Not Connery.  Not Moore.

After the bloated disaster of You Only Live Twice, my expectations were not very high.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

This is perhaps the best Bond movie up to this point in the series.  I know it is blasphemy to say so.  I love Connery.  I adore Moore.  The achievement in question is perhaps best attributed to the director (new to the series in this capacity):  Peter Hunt.

Telly Savalas is masterful as the cat-petting Blofeld.  He adds a depth to the character which was missing in the previous depiction by Donald Pleasence.  It is interesting to note the similarities of Blofeld’s allergy institute (a cover for brainwashing) to the CIA’s dirty program Project MKUltra which was headed by Dr. Sidney Gottlieb.  The ghastly “research” was administrated from 1953 onwards by Dr. Gottlieb.  Blofeld’s methods in this film bear a striking resemblance to those of MKUltra’s head experimenter Dr. Ewen Cameron.  The world can thank CIA agent William Francis Buckley (“Bill”, but not the one of which you’re probably thinking) for blowing the whistle on this dark, dark period in CIA misadventure.  Buckley observed the deplorable results in Montreal at McGill University.

But back to fun stuff 🙂  High-speed chases!  The Bond series from Eon Productions redeems itself with a great ski chase down Piz Gloria (atop which is Blofeld’s “clinic”).  While not as epic as the underwater battle in Thunderball, it is much more entertaining that the autogyro sequence in You Only Live Twice.

I really must compliment Lazenby.  His was no easy task.  It was the right decision for him to not speak in an affected Scottish accent after Connery.  Lazenby could have been a great long-term Bond.  Thankfully he contributed this one fine performance to the annals.

Peter Hunt is to be equally (if not more so) congratulated.  This was a unique ending for a Bond movie.  It was handled deftly and had just the right amount of suspense to keep the incredulous at bay.  I’m speaking of course about 007 getting married.  You’ll have to see it for yourself to find out just how Eon Productions managed to finagle a continuance of the series after this “blow” to the womanizing lead character.  Of course, in today’s world marriage wouldn’t be a hindrance at all in a similar dramatic case.

This film is really an odd duck, but it should stand as an example for the series.  It is a bit humorous to hear John Barry give the famous 007 guitar line to a harpsichord in the opening credits.  The effect is similar to “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.”  Louis Armstrong even sings a song especially recorded for this film!  He was near the end of his life and it is as touching as Billie Holiday’s album Lady In Satin.  Armstrong never recorded another song (dying two years later from a heart attack).

 

-PD