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

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

The Spy Who Loved Me [1977)

I hate to be a downer, but this one just doesn’t cut it.  It is as bad as You Only Live Twice.  It even shares the same essential plot as that clunker.  The common theme between these two films is the director:  Lewis Gilbert.  The sad conclusion is that Gilbert did not have the auteurist touch of Guy Hamilton or Terence Young.

At least there’s the ski jump (with Union Jack parachute).  At least Jaws (Richard Kiel) is magnificently creepy.  At least there is Barbara Bach (though her acting doesn’t register as highly as her physique).  Curd Jürgens is a snoozer villain.  Don Knotts might have been scarier.

Perhaps the best part of the movie is the song.  It is genuinely great!  “Nobody Does It Better” was written by Marvin Hamlisch and sung by Carly Simon.  Sadly, it’s all down hill from the opening credits.

 

-PD

The Return of the Pink Panther [1975)

From the start it is a pale imitation of Topkapi.

But the film is salvaged by upping the ridiculousness of Sellers’ French accent.

The grand premise is similar to Hitchcock’s To Catch A Thief (1955), but the Pink Panther series had by 1975 lost that je ne sais quoi which made the first two films of the series minor masterpieces.

This film is really all about Sellers’ uncanny skill at impressions (and there are some good ones):  the phone company man, the German-speaking housekeeper and even the Tony Clifton-esque playboy.

It is interesting to note that Sellers actually did have a residence in Gstaad (one of the principal settings for this film).

Also interesting to note is that Graham Stark (who had previously played Hercule LaJoy in A Shot In The Dark (1964), the second episode in the series) plays the role of Pepi.  Pepi is actually the only other interesting character in this whole film.  There is a sort of “Signor Ugarte meets Marty Feldman’s Igor” about his performance.

The direction at least has some interesting “psychedelic” moments (I’m thinking of the two slow-motion shots of Sellers flying through the air attempting an unsuccessful karate kick).

One thing is certain:  Sellers had a comedic magic which even caused his fellow actors (Catherine Schell in this film) to visibly “crack up” during takes.  The “corpsing” (as it is known) will be familiar to viewers of Saturday Night Live.  Sellers really embodied the part (as any good purveyor of imitations would).  When true comedic genius is present, it is often hard to find a Zeppo Marx.

But what I find most fascinating about this awful film (awful aside from Sellers) is that the director Blake Edwards had just three years previous made a fantastic drama starring James Coburn called The Carey Treatment (1972).  Edwards was no slouch as a director.  That then brings into question the underrated acting skills of Coburn (Derek Flint for spy-spoof enthusiasts).

With the immense talent of Sellers and the thorough competence of Edwards, I can only surmise that (like the Bond series beginning with You Only Live Twice (1967)) the series itself became a stale constraint due to pressure from above.  The only real innovation allowed to happen was in the liberties Sellers took with the Clouseau character.  The accent is more indecipherable, yet that becomes formulaic over the course of 114 minutes as the new gag is run into the ground.  The imitations are creative and elaborate (almost like a playful take on Dr. Strangelove), but none of them seem particularly well thought-out.  Somehow there was a disconnect between the talents of Sellers and Edwards.  Had they been creating as one, this awfully good film might have been great.

 

-PD

 

You Only Live Twice [1967)

And here we start to drift…

Sure…we finally see the face of the man petting the cat (Donald Pleasence as the archetype for what would become Dr. Evil in the Austin Powers series), but I can’t say I was overly impressed with the directing of Lewis Gilbert.  In a series thus far dominated by the underrated Terence Young, even Guy Hamilton had turned in an admirable film with Goldfinger (1964), but You Only Live Twice might better have been allowed to only live once (or not at all).

When I saw Roald Dahl’s name in the opening credits, I was reassured.  And I am always glad to see production designer Ken Adam’s name.  But something is awry with this film.  It is a bit of a limp fish (and not, sadly, fine sushi).

From the beginning (Bond’s burial at sea) the modern viewer might be thinking of another figure supposedly buried at sea:  Osama bin Laden.  Perhaps the two deaths are equally credible.

Karin Dor might have saved this movie, but sadly she is eaten a bit prematurely by piranhas.  And while the piranhas fit with the methods of past Bond movies (sharks in Thunderball, for instance), there are some troubling details which make it clear the creators of this film might have been well-served to stick closer to Fleming’s novel than they did.

Bond flies a miniature helicopter to an island between Kobe and Shanghai:  somewhere along an 829-mile-long route.  Little Nellie (the chopper) could hardly have made it much outside of the bay before running out of fuel, but with all the gadgetry on board we might just suspend our disbelief.  Perhaps it is even Tokyo from whence Little Nellie departs:  an even greater haul.  It really isn’t made very clear (or else I missed it).  Maybe “Tiger” Tanaka had a base close to Blofeld’s island that I failed to register.

Karin Dor’s (Helga Brandt–#11 in S.P.E.C.T.R.E.) abrupt reversal from sleeping with Bond to disposing of him by parachuting from a plane in which she traps him really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.  Why didn’t she just go ahead and use the plastic surgery tool in the first place?  Her interrogation is weak.  For what it’s worth, her threat of torture only got half the truth:  Bond admitting to being a spy (but an industrial spy after a measly $300,000).

At least the scene in the autogyro is somewhat entertaining, but nothing compared to the underwater battle in Thunderball.  Seems the Eon franchise was running a bit thin on ideas by this point.  Mercifully, the scenery of Japan is nice (the wedding, the passing funeral, etc.).

The overall premise of the movie is good.  It is believable.  It is only the execution and the details which mar what could have otherwise been another classic in this series.  The ninjas are a bit funny, but when in Tokyo (as they say)…  Perhaps the funniest part is Connery as a Japanese man (by way of Lon Chaney methods).

Kissy Suzuki takes the prize as the best name.  Score another for the Bond girls in the “memorable name” category.  But part of the confusion is that there are three possible Bond girls:  one who dies by poison, one who is  promising (and pleasing to the eye) until stripped to the bone by omnivorous fish, and Kissy.  It’s typical of a movie which doesn’t seem to know exactly what it wants to be.  It is formulaic, but that didn’t stop the first four Eon-produced Bond movies from being generally fantastic.  The error comes in tentative experimentation, not enough experimentation, and the setting-in of creative lethargy as regards the Bond series’ “tricks.”

No doubt, for 1967 this was some ambitious filmmaking.  Ken Adam did a reasonably good job of trying to take the series to the next level with his set design, but the overall product is just not convincing.  Truth be told, Adam and the main persons responsible for this film could have all died aboard BOAC Flight 911 had they not been convinced to stay in Japan on the scouting trip a bit longer and watch some ninjas.  Perhaps having the ninjas in the film was a bit of thanks for the disaster they narrowly escaped.  All on board the flight they were scheduled to take died when it crashed 25 minutes after takeoff.

Roald Dahl (whose name I mentioned earlier) wrote the screenplay.  He had been a close friend of Ian Fleming.  Despite their friendship, Dahl considered the novel upon which the movie was based to be Fleming’s worst.  Indeed, Dahl resorted (due to apparent lack of plot in the novel) to aping Dr. No to a significant extent.  Dahl was, however, quite complimentary of director Lewis Gilbert.  Perhaps the deck was just really stacked against the auteur in question.

There’s no doubt that great effort went into making this film.  A cameraman (John Jordan) lost his foot, for God’s sake!  No, the dearth wasn’t in physical “energy,” but in mental excitement.

Editor Peter Hunt went on to direct the next Bond film (due to his successful sorting and sifting of the footage from this gargantuan blob).

At least the title song is great (thanks to Nancy Sinatra).

 

-PD