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

 

Deepwater Horizon [2016)

This film has every reason to be horrible, but it’s not.

It’s actually quite a good piece of filmmaking.

It’s not cinema, but it’s the kind of stuff which resonates even with a crusty old jaded bloke like me.

BP.

That’s why I went.

As my few diehard readers know, I am a business student.

And Charles Ives was an insurance salesman.

Similar juxtaposition of temperament and métier.

It is my job to research.  To go to school.

I am infinitely lucky to have such an opportunity to retrain.

If you hear of a music theory factory, let me know.

But the men and women on the Deepwater Horizon rig were doing real work.

And so it is an honor to see these employees of Transocean conduct themselves with bravery and virtue on the big screen.

And BP.

What about BP?

We’ll be getting to that.

In 2010, I was still the drummer in a Cajun punk-rock band.

We played benefits in places like Venice, Louisiana.

I can personally attest to the fact that the media focus at the time (2010) was on the plight of shrimpers and marine life.

The focus was on the oil spill.

Sadly, the 11 Transocean employees who lost their lives in this textbook case for business ethics (lack thereof) were never given the memorial they deserved.

Until now.

Yes, this is a story of the deplorables.

Working on an oil rig.

Gulf of Mexico.

These are your Donald Trump voters.

And I am proudly among their number.

If you want to get the real story of class conflict in regards to the deplorables, try parsing this (mostly-good) socialist take on the situation.

http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-class-dynamics-in-the-rise-of-donald-trump-why-establishment-voices-stigmatize-the-white-working-class-as-racist-and-xenophobic/5549634

While I do not agree with all of the author’s conclusions, I think the “white working class” has been unjustly portrayed as deplorable by elitist, pseudo-leftists like Hillary Clinton.

Make no mistake (to use Obama’s favorite phrase):  Hillary Clinton is an extremely wealthy individual posing as a “people’s candidate”.

Her opposition (Donald Trump) does not adopt such Janus-faced dissimulation.  He largely admits to being a (gasp!) capitalist.

It would have been more exciting to see the extremes of the continuum represented by Trump and Bernie Sanders, but the infinitely-crooked Clinton stole the Democratic Party nomination from the genuinely-socialist Sanders.

However, Sanders immediately turned around and campaigned for Clinton.

Bernie, then, is the spineless, wet rag he always seemed to be.

But Trump hits back.  Hard!

And that is what the deplorables want.

There are many aggrieved parties in America.

Deepwater Horizon presents the case of craven, feckless British Petroleum executives who let the little people die.

Socialism is right to focus on workers.

Capitalism is right to focus on value-creation.

China (a real nightmare) just happens to have had a very large hand in funding this film.

Right?

Maybe not.

It seems, however, that there are a few names (and one Hong Kong company) missing from the Wikipedia rundown of Deepwater Horizon.

The company in question is TIK Film (or Films) of China.

As of 2015, Lionsgate had signed a $1.5 bil. cooperation deal with TIK’s parent company Hunan Television.

And so this brings up a point:  was Deepwater Horizon Chinese propaganda to further smear British Petroleum?  It’s a possibility worth considering.

In fact, there are a couple of associate producer credits (if I remember the description correctly) missing even from iMDB’s more extensive summation of the film’s business players.

The two Chinese executives (presumably) are clearly identified in the opening credits of Deepwater Horizon.  Unless you have a photographic memory, you’re not likely to find corroboration of this once you get home from the theater.

But maybe this angle is a diversion.

Certainly, the most important issue covered by this film is that 11 human beings with wives and children lost their lives ostensibly because a company put profit before people.

The film lays the blame primarily on two BP executives.

But all of the major oil and gas players are there including the pivotal case of Schlumberger.  One company suspiciously missing from the film is Halliburton.  Indeed, it doesn’t take very long to realize that this outfit was intimately involved in the Deepwater Horizon disaster.  Maybe Dick Cheney promised to donate his pacemaker to the CCP?

What about these players?

Transocean Ltd. of Switzerland (lovely).

Hyundai Heavy Industries of South Korea.

Indeed…the OptiCem cement modeling system of Halliburton is extremely germane to the issue of culpability for the deaths of these 11 workers.

And yet Halliburton managed to extricate itself completely from this cinematic muckraking.

What gives a company such power?

We likewise don’t hear about Anadarko Petroleum.

Or the Mitsui Group.

It certainly seems BP had a controlling interest in the Macondo Prospect well which blew out, but 35% of the ownership pie was not held by BP.

Our film portrays BP as playing an operational role in overriding the experience and wisdom of Transocean workers at the site.  It portrays BP executives as committing the cardinal sin of business ethics:  focusing on short-term profits over long-term safety.  Indeed, the film under review makes the case that BP executives prevented Schlumberger from performing due diligence in testing the concrete at the well in question.

The most disgusting part is that no one personally got in trouble.  That, indeed, is the most deplorable aspect of all.

 

-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