Twin Peaks “Checkmate” [1991)

Project Blue Book.

Of course he was familiar with it.

Just like Sean Connery knew a bit about gold.

And an overdose of bombois.

Superfluous papilla.

Suddenly…everything has changed.

But we’re stuck back in a nightmare with another St. Annie.

If you see her…please tell her thanks a lot.

If you see her…say hello.

For…Virginia!

Kindly tell me why there’s no fire on those hills.

Gettysburg.

You’re standing on J.E.B. Stuart.

A sweet love story.

It’s David Duchovny month here at paulydeathwish.com.

10cc.

Tambourine with heaps of shimmering reverb.

Fort Meade.

Maybe all he needs is a shot in the arm.

Cooper still does the right thing.

Michael Parks as Jean Renault.

Impeccable broken English with a French accent.

Like a diabolical Clouseau.

Spookiest is the woozy Kevin Shields treatment.

Periodically cutting the power as at Incirlik.

This is the genius of Giacinto Scelsi.

On one note.

Or Roland Kirk with a water hose.

Too quiet in America.

Mate on the move.

 

-PD

Twin Peaks “Realization Time” [1990)

Always apologize to the authorities.

What the French call cache-cache.

There are two great series of propaganda of which I’m aware.

One is the James Bond franchise.

The other is Twin Peaks.

External intelligence (I/O).

Internal intelligence (RB).

I/O (:OT)

RB (SW:)

I might suck at chess, but so did Napoleon.

Admitting one does not really understand does not have to lead to abject sellout.

Certain information is classified for a reason.

It was hard to come by.

It does not exist in an open source.

And so I try real hard to imagine an honorable employee of the CIA.

Maybe somebody like “Buzzy” Krongard who forgets to unpack a couple of Walther PPKs from his overnight bag before heading to the airport.

Oops…

Could happen to the best of us.

But why A.B.?

Why the lapse??

9/11:  where are they now???

When we imagine external intelligence, we might think of a world completely ruled by consequentialism and Realpolitik.

We like to think of Daniel Craig.  Sean Connery.  Roger Moore.

We like to think of our operatives as protectors.

But my guess is they perform some of the ugliest jobs on the planet.

For the state!

The dear, sweet NSA knows every book I’ve bought (unless I paid cash).

Knows my library withdrawals.

So I might as well cite Burckhardt.

The State as a Work of Art.

Seems pretty self-explanatory (if fanciful).

But German can be slippery.

And so we come to,

War as a Work of Art.

The “dilettante” Machiavelli gets the usual translation (Art of War), but not Burckhardt.

Not in my edition.

1958.

Imagination lets me conceive of a good FBI agent.

Like Coleen Rowley.

Robert Wright.

These, perhaps, are the forward projections of Special Agent Dale Cooper.

But let’s get deeper.

The turf war.

Two agencies of the same government.

Working at cross purposes.

I can easily imagine a unique relationship.

You don’t investigate our wholesale illegal activities,

and we don’t disappear your agents.

So that the CIA is beyond the law.

Perhaps it must be that way.  Beethoven might even resign it.

But it is naïve to think of the FBI as merely an investigative entity.

They too get creative.

In Twin Peaks we have an honorable man.  One of the best and brightest.

Dale Cooper.

Doing a job.  Innocent as a dove, but wise as a serpent.

When dealing with Log Lady, one gets crosswise with Elf Power and Stereolab.

Ending up, Gus the Mynah Bird with the Candy Bar Head.

There is an information hierarchy.

Pertinent to all forms of intelligence gathering and interpretation.

Data–>Info–>Knowledge (–> Wisdom)

The final stage is not optional, but it is elusive.

It is the most valuable.

It’s the part that says, “Hey, CIA man (or woman)…don’t take The Fugs too seriously.”

It’s also the fine line between bravery and stupidity (practically the same phenomenon) which inspires Sherilyn Fenn to smoke a fag in the closet.  [Err…]

Nothing to lose.  Fearless.

And what if such fire is married to morals?  Ethics?

We’re no saints, but we do a lot of selfless stuff.

And yet we spout our shit and muck up the mission of consummate professionals.

Differing perspectives.

Two meanings of intelligence.

We don’t have the intelligence (because we are civilian nobodies…combing the net for OSINT).

But we have intelligence.

It may not be Ivy League.

But it’s relentless.

 

-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

Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery [1997)

I imagine I’m the only film critic in the world simultaneously engrossed in the oeuvre of Godard and the semi-genre of spy spoofs.

Yet it’s true.

And this film sets a sort of modern standard.

When I first saw this picture it didn’t have the same effect on me which it does now.

The difference?

Total immersion in the James Bond series.

This brings me back to my first statement…stated differently:

How could a person delve into the deepest recesses of French intellectual film and yet appreciate a notoriously shallow succession of pseudo-cinematic pap?

The James Bond franchise succeeded in its early years on sheer will of confidence (expressed in the nonchalant swagger of Sean Connery).

And so for those of us who are drawn to films such as Dr. No like moths to a flame Austin Powers provides just the right measure of fun to mercifully deflate our nonsensical ambitions.

Truth be told, most average citizens (myself included) would make horrible secret agents.  We can’t keep secrets.

We can’t outrun a young assassin.

But we like to dream.

There are always analyst jobs.  Perhaps…

But let’s get on with it…

What makes this film special?

It is that outsider/outcast aspect which plagues Austin “Danger” Powers.

The most poignant (poignant?) touch is Austin in the casino bar flashing a peace sign (V) of naïvete to a tableful of unsympathetic twits.

It should be noted that Mike Myers actually does a formidable job of not only referencing the various minutiae of Bond films but also of evoking the humanism of Chaplin embodied in the closing speech of The Great Dictator.

Put simply, this is a very smart movie.  Don’t let the fart jokes fool you.

Sure…some aspects of this film have not aged so well, but it was made in a spirit of fun.

Did this opening installment in the franchise pander to the mediocre intelligence of American movie-going audiences?

Of course.

But hey…that spirit has powered (no pun intended) some of the great films of all time.

What Austin Powers brought to the world was really a reawakening of the American comedy zeitgeist from the 1980s.

Think of those great, enjoyable films like The Three Amigos (and especially Spies Like Us), Trading Places, the National Lampoon movies, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles…  I don’t care what anyone says:  those were great movies!

Those are the films I grew up on.  Airplane, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure…heck, even Romancing the Stone pulled me in every time it came on TV.

Director Jay Roach did a really nice job of providing that enjoyable experience with this film.  We all need some laughs.

Life is too hard; too sad.  Too serious!

But Austin Powers is most of all the gold standard of Bond spoofs.  When you can’t watch Goldfinger for the umpteenth time, give yourself a break with this film.

It will feel like a masterpiece.  We all need a funhouse mirror in which to see our own reflection and laugh.

There’s no shame in that 🙂

-PD

Skyfall [2012)

If you wait too long, you lose the impression.

I was way behind on trying to support my compatriots.  It is not necessary to agree.  What I champion is freedom of expression.

And so we try to remember the mood…the efficacy of cinema in the hands of Sam Mendes.

Perhaps the first “real” director to approach the Bond franchise after having had success beforehand.

Mendes will always have a place in my heart for his deft touch directing Thora Birch in American Beauty.

Fortunately we can look forward to a second contribution in the forthcoming Bond film Spectre.

But for now we have this.

What of it?

I should dispense with self-congratulatory pomp at this time rather than let it distract me.

Yes, I have now seen all of the Bond films from Eon Productions.  You can access the reviews of all 23 pictures here on my site by clicking the Bond tab.

Now that we have that out of the way…

The first glaring bit of strategic signaling occurs when we learn that our MacGuffin is a hard drive.

Of course, it’s what’s on the hard drive which makes this worth mentioning.

NATO agents embedded in terrorist groups.

For anyone with a knowledge of Operation Gladio this brings up a troubling association.

To wit:  the possibility that the organizations are controlled by NATO for cynical purposes.

This was, and continues to be, a fundamental aspect of geopolitics.  False-flag terror.

Perhaps Mendes (or the writers of the film) knowingly left this bread crumb to add a quasi-credibility to what has often become a propagandistic series for the power elite.

Whatever the case may be, the opening sequence is generally good.

Let’s face it:  it’s getting harder and harder after 23 films to have James Bond do something novel.

His seeming demise before the credits roll make us think of that horribly daft episode from the Connery days:

You Only Live Twice.

Ralph Fiennes is unlikable from the start, but we learn why as the film progresses.

Mendes does a nice job of faking us out on several occasions.  We even suspect Bond as a terrorist briefly.

Another breadcrumb:  the depleted uranium bullet fragments from Bond’s shoulder.

With this we are brought back to that stain upon U.S. military operations over the past 15 years.

Keeping in mind the research of Doug Rokke, we might again be seeing an attempt by the Bond franchise to relate with an increasingly informed viewer base.

Think on your sins?

Well, all cinematic sins are forgiven once director Mendes has occasion to mold and shape the lights of high-rise Shanghai into a sci-fi backdrop for good old fashion ass kicking.

Modigliani.

We are meant to associate the extra-terrestrial eyes with Bérénice Marlohe.  Like the grey-eyed goddess Athena, we will later meet her in the shower (ohh-la-la!).

When all else fails in a film, have the location shift to Macau.

Indeed, the best dialogue comes between Daniel Craig and Mlle. Marlohe at the casino bar.  It reminds us of that fleeting bit of verbal mastery aboard the train in Casino Royale when Craig and Eva Green took turns sizing each other up.

Enter Javier Bardem.

Bardem is certainly among the most convincing villains in the entire Bond pantheon.  Something about that bleached-blond hair gives us a creepy feeling every time his character Raoul Silva is shown.

Bardem’s acting, particularly around the time of his character’s first appearance, is world-class.

Ben Whishaw does a fine job as the new Q (though we miss John Cleese and, of course, Desmond Llewelyn).

Credit Sam Mendes with a deft portrayal of the battle between old ways and new.

New is exemplified by the new Q:  cyber-reliance.

Old is exemplified by the crusty James Bond:  HUMINT.

This film almost telegraphs the Zeitgeist which would spawn Edward Snowden as global hero, but it casts such genius (>145 IQ) as the enemy in Bardem’s character.

[As a side note, I should like to add that Snowden’s story would have to be most ingenious cover ever if found to be inauthentic.  Such iron-clad credibility no doubt came at a steep price for the NSA (see PRISM).  Though farfetched, one never knows to what lengths the Western national security state will go next to try and salvage its tenuous hold on global hegemony.  All things considered, his defection to the public side (in the interest of the general public) seems to be authentic and highly admirable.]

Skyfall becomes less successful when Bardem has Hannibal Lecter lighting cast upon him during the glass-cage treatment later in this film.  This is an unimaginative bit of filmmaking beneath the level of director Mendes.

As trivial as it may seem, Mendes later redeems himself with a simple shot of approaching figures reflected in the chrome of a side-view mirror.   It doesn’t hurt that the mirror in question is attached to an Aston Martin DB5.

Overall, the successes of this film should rightly be attributed to Sam Mendes.  That said, this is not a masterpiece.  It is a very good, yet flawed, film.

Here’s hoping Mendes knocks it out of the park with Spectre.  Cheerio!

-PD

Licence to Kill [1989)

It may sound like heresy to say it, but this is the third great James Bond movie up to this point in the series.  Furthermore, it is particularly rich that it came out during the presidency of George H.W. Bush.  The pleasant surprise is that Carey Lowell takes the cake as hottest Bond girl through the first 16 films.  These are controversial claims and allusions.  Buckle up.

1974.  The first great Bond film.  There is no denying the palpable rush of Dr. No–no topping the exotic sensuality of From Russia with Love.  It has less to do with Connery, perhaps the best Bond, than it does with cinema.  The first great James Bond film came under the watchful eye of auteur Guy Hamilton.  He lives.  The Man with the Golden Gun.  Yes, it was a Roger Moore film.  So sue me.

1985.  The second great James Bond film.  Travesty of travesties!  He’s going to name two from the 80s.  Yes, that’s right.  A View to a Kill.  John Glen made an auteurist bid with this flick.  Again with the Roger Moore.  John Glen lives.

1989.  The third perfect Bond film.  John Glen achieves immortality.  Hyperbole.  Hyperbole.  This is to take nothing away from our cherished Guy Hamilton.  He too made more that just Golden Gun.

But let us stretch out a bit…  What makes these three films so strong?  Answer:  the villains.  Christopher Lee.  Christopher Walken.  And Christopher…er, Robert Davi.

George H.W. Bush.  There was a book from 1992 called The Mafia, CIA and George Bush written by Pete Brewton.  That’s back when there was only one George Bush known on the world stage.  Middle initials were unnecessary.  I haven’t read the book in question, but it bears mentioning that I remembered the pithy title mistakenly…as The CIA, Drugs, and George Bush.  There’s more than an Oxford comma’s difference between the two…obviously.

1998 brought the world a book called Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion by Gary Webb.  I have not read this book either.

So what, you may be asking, is my fucking point?

Let me note a few poignant books I have read.  9/11 Synthetic Terror:  Made in USA by Webster Griffin Tarpley.  Crossing the Rubicon by Michael Ruppert.  The Big Wedding by Sander Hicks.  9/11 The Big Lie (L’Effroyable imposture) by Thierry Meyssan.  Pentagate also by Meyssan.  The Shadow Government:  9/11 and State Terror by Len Bracken.  The Arch Conspirator also by Bracken.  Body of Secrets by James Bamford.  America’s “War on Terrorism” by Michel Chossudovsky.  The 9/11 Commission Report:  Omissions and Distortions by David Ray Griffin.  The Bilderberg Group by Daniel Estulin.  Inside Job:  Unmasking the 9/11 Conspiracies by Jim Marrs.  The Terror Conspiracy also by Marrs.

If you’re still reading you are likely laughing or transfixed.  And again I can sense the question:  what is the fucking point?

Well, dear reader, it is that I can wholeheartedly agree with Mark Gorton’s reservations regarding George H.W. Bush.  I used to think Dick Cheney was the scariest guy in the world (thanks Mike Ruppert).  Donald Rumsfeld always seemed in the running.  But after reading Gorton’s fastidious research, I concur that the prize should probably go to Poppy Bush.

At wikispooks.com, one can find the following articles by Gorton:

Fifty Years of the Deep State

The Coup of ’63, Part I

and

The Political Dominance of the Cabal

Gorton is not your average conspiracy theorist.  His degrees are from Yale, Stanford, and Harvard (respectively).  His business successes include founding LimeWire and the Tower Research Capital hedge fund.

And that brings us to sex.

Carey Lowell.  With her androgynous hairstyle, she still (because of?) manages to be the hottest Bond girl through the first 16 films.  Sure, Timothy Dalton is great, but Carey Lowell is fan-fucking-tastic.  The message of the establishment is that if you don’t play by the rules, you don’t get the sex cookie.  Carey Lowell is not an establishment actress in this movie.  Her character is the anti-Bond girl in some respects.  For this series, anyway, that’s as good as it gets.  Until Anamaria Marinca is cast alongside (or as) 007, the bar is memorably set by Lowell.  Perhaps as I critically watch the more recent films I will find other Bond girls who truly stand out in a believable way, but Lowell takes the cake through the first 16 films.

Lowell lived in Houston for awhile.  Back to Bush.  Right down the road is the scariest man in the world?  Dear readers…the Internet remains free for only so long.  Soon we may have to get all Bradbury and become book people.  If Carey ever gets tired of Richard Gere, maybe she’ll meet us in the forest.  I’ll be Histoire(s) du cinema.  The book.

-PD

Diamonds Are Forever [1971)

Goodbye Connery.  Barring an unlikely return to the character after the age of 84, this would seem to be the last of the Eon Productions’ series of Bond films to feature the original actor.  I am holding out hope that Connery will team up with fellow octogenarian Jean-Luc Godard and make the 007 picture to end all 007 pictures.  No doubt, it would be a disjointed masterpiece and would deflate the mythical secret agent that Connery grew so tired of playing.  But I’m not holding my breath on the odds.

What we do have is a brilliant movie.  While it’s true that Connery would once more act as Bond in Never Say Never Again, his run in the canon in some ways ends here.  I, for one, think he left on a truly high note.

Jill St. John and Lana Wood are both gorgeous in this film.  Kudos to casting 🙂

Willard Whyte (a thinly-veiled depiction of Howard Hughes) was actually made possible by Mr. Hughes himself.  Howard was friends with producer Albert Broccoli.  Hughes’ pull certainly came in handy for the location-filming in Vegas.

Speaking of pull…Sidney (the socks make the man) Korshak has his imprint on this film in several ways.  I would imagine his assistance in Las Vegas was immeasurable.  He also just so happened to represent St. John.  What luck! 😉

Some viewers might give pause (variously) at the first appearance of Plenty O’Toole (Wood).  She does make quite a splash.

Guy Hamilton did another fine job as director (previously doing Goldfinger in the series).  Seems Hrundi V. Bakshi was “on set” during the oil rig scene.  And though the explosives went off prematurely, there were a couple of cameras rolling. (whew)

How can one object to a film that basically starts with the actual Miss World 1953 being strangled topless with her own bikini?  Yes, it was a “bit part” for Denise Perrier, but pithy.  Pity about the PG version.

Students of architecture will appreciate the Slumber Mortuary with its lozenge-shaped stained-glass window.  Good taste is timeless.

And phooey regarding continuity!  Car on two wheels passenger side entering the alley?  Car on two wheels driver’s side exiting the alley?  That is the mystery of cinema.  Throw in some jump-cuts and you have Breathless. 🙂

 

-PD

 

 

Goldfinger [1964)

Honor Blackman really did know judo.  I am speaking, of course, about Pussy Galore.  No, not the band Jon Spencer fronted prior to the Blues Explosion, but rather the original article.  Blackman plays Pussy (“Poosy,” as Connery says it) and gets to show off the martial arts skills she indeed has in real life.

Art imitated life as well in the directorial realm.  Guy Hamilton took the helm when disputes arose between previous Bond director Terence Young and Eon Productions.  Hamilton had known Ian Fleming and also, like Fleming, done intelligence work for the Royal Navy in WWII.

Ken Adam returned to set design after working for Kubrick on Dr. Strangelove.

Just as odd as Oddjob (the Korean with the throwable hat of death) is the fact that Goldfinger was the seventh Bond novel Fleming wrote.  As I mentioned in my article on Casino Royale (the first Bond novel), there was a bit of trouble concerning rights to these books.  Eon Productions would go on to dominate the screen versions of Bond, but Casino Royale was made as a spy spoof by Colombia Pictures in 1967 (not unlike Modesty Blaise of 1966).  Indeed, it was a court case which convinced Eon Productions to hold off on Thunderball and go ahead with Goldfinger.

Credit for the ingenious “irradiation of the gold” should be given not to Fleming, but to Richard Maibaum.  Fleming had not quite thought through the impossibility of emptying Fort Knox of its gold deposits (unless the thieves had a couple weeks time to haul it off:  not exactly conducive to a “getaway”).

Hollywood magic provided for Sean Connery to be filming Marnie with Alfred Hitchcock while a small crew actually showed up for the location shoot in Miami.  Ian Fleming himself visited the set at Pinewood Studios in the U.K., but died before the film was released.  Notably, there was actual filming done in the Fort Knox area because of a connection between producer Albert Broccoli (a real name, to be sure) and Lt. Col. Charles Russhon, but they were never (reportedly) allowed in the depository.  Ken Adam was tasked with imagining what the inside might look like.  The result of his imaginings was built at Pinewood.

The very latest Aston Martin (1964) was chosen to be Bond’s super-spy car (complete with smokescreen, oil slick, machine gun and other such technology).  The make was chosen at the behest of Ken Adam (who considered it England’s most “sophisticated” brand).  Bond would return with the same model in Thunderball (though he drives his first-issued DB5 into a brick wall).

The laser in Goldfinger morphed from a circular saw in Fleming’s book to the edge of science fiction (industrial lasers not existing in 1959 when Fleming wrote the book, nor in 1964 when the film was made).

To emphasize the human version of gold, the creators of the film took a page out of Hitchcock’s “icy blonde” book and liberally cast blondes for nearly all the female characters.

It is interesting to note that the Goldfinger soundtrack topped the Billboard 200 chart (thanks to Shirley Bassey’s brassy rendition of the title song).

One particularly novel product tie-in which emanated from Goldfinger was Bond “dress shoes.”

But lets get back to people, shall we?  It is people who make products.  The title designer Robert Brownjohn not only referenced Moholy-Nagy, but he was the New Bauhaus founder’s protégé.  Today we know it as the Institute of Design in Chicago.  Brownjohn died in 1970, but not before designing the cover to The Rolling Stones’ album Let It Bleed.

Guy Hamilton directed three more Bond films after Goldfinger, but not until after a long hiatus which stretched to 1971.  He is a French director and, perhaps to the astonishment of those who also don’t realize Godard is still alive, is 91 years old.

Of the producers, Harry Saltzman was born in Quebec and died in Paris.  The aforementioned Albert “Cubby” Broccoli was born in Queens, NY and died in Beverly Hills.

Writers Richard Maibaum and Paul Dehn have both passed away.

Ian Fleming we have already noted as concerns mortality.

Sir Sean Connery is alive and well being born, like Godard, in 1930.

Gert Fröbe (Goldfinger himself), funny enough, appeared in the movie version of another novel written by Ian Fleming:  Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

And Pussy Galore?  Dear, sweet Pussy Galore?  She lives on as Honor Blackman (even though she was the oldest actress to play a Bond girl).  She declined a CBE in 2002.  She is a signed supporter to replace Britain’s monarchy with a republic.  Indeed, what was it that inspired Pussy to call Washington, D.C.?  Motherly instinct?

 

-PD