5 Espionage Myths — The November Man

 

By Piper Bayard

 

The November Man movie poster

The November Man movie poster

 

The November Man is an espionage movie in which an ex-CIA operative is brought back by the Company for a personal mission in Moscow, only to find himself pitted against his protégé. It is a fast action thriller starring Pierce Brosnan and Luke Bracey that rockets viewers through the Russian and Serbian shadow world with everything from brutal assassins to rogue top-level operatives. It is also a comprehensive collection of espionage myths.

 

Myth One – CIA operatives are all ready and willing to off their own at any given moment just because a bureaucrat orders it.

Truth – US intelligence operatives are not murderous automatons who blindly kill whomever they are told to, up to and including their mentors and protégés.

 

It was common in Stalin’s KGB for Soviet operatives to kill each other. In fact, the KGB had a special branch for the express purpose of targeting fellow agents. However, such pointless slaughter has never been part of the US intelligence culture. Americans don’t put up with that crap. Presidents come and go with their various agendas, and long after they are booking their lecture tours and cutting ribbons on their presidential libraries, operatives are still on the job. Our intelligence community consists of flesh and blood human beings who would not live long if they didn’t question and comprehend their missions. They are not slovenly attack dogs to be released on any target that a transient bureaucratic overlord decides is inconvenient to their political goals, particularly when that target is one of their own.

 

Myth Two – Operatives think nothing of killing innocent people.

Truth – People who randomly kill innocents are serial killers and criminal psychopaths, not highly trained intelligence operatives.

 

Killing is serious business, and the intelligence community has had standing orders for decades to avoid civilian casualties as much as possible. An operative who randomly kills innocent people would be quickly weeded out. Such behavior is unacceptable in the intelligence community.

 

Myth Three – Operatives can’t have families.

Truth – Operatives, like anyone else, can have loved ones and families that they adore.

 

While it is true that many field operatives are either single or divorced, that is due to the nature of the job and not to any taboo about bonding with other humans. The fact is that few spouses are up for, “I need to go. Can’t say where. Can’t say when I’ll be home. Sorry, but I can’t leave you a number, either.” The lifestyle is very hard on relationships, and spouses must be as committed to leading the double life as the operative is. Not many are, and they are not to blame for that. However, as my writing partner proves, some do sustain marriages and family ties for decades.

 

Myth Four – People can be killers, or they can love, but they can’t do both.

Truth – Dedicated operatives often go into the field because they DO love.

 

The notion that someone who is trained to kill the likes of Bin Laden can’t love is patently absurd. Many operatives go into the field because they are unwilling to sit still and do nothing while brutal despots butcher innocent people.

 

Myth Five – Assassins look like assassins.

Truth – Assassins look like the school secretary, the grocery store manager, the bank teller, the janitor, or anyone else who can blend in with a crowd.

 

It is not required for operatives to speak in foreign accents and wear either tailored business suits or black leather.

 

Russian Assassin from The November Man

Russian Assassin from The November Man

 

 

While not a common myth, another notable fiction in The November Man is the notion that bullets from handguns travel at four times the speed of sound . . . Excuse me? A handgun? More like a hand held rocket launcher. Clearly, Hollywood is holding out on the Navy.

 

If you care nothing for accuracy about espionage or human nature in your spy thrillers, then go ahead and spend the $13 and enjoy Pierce Brosnan doing what he does best. However, if you do know anything at all about firearms, operatives, psychology, history, NATO, or intelligence work, this movie will make your head explode at a velocity of four times the speed of sound.

Bayard, Holmes, Movie, No Popcorn — SKYFALL

SKYFALL Review

By Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

SKYFALL marks the Golden Anniversary of the Bond series, and it’s raking in the serious gold—for good reason. In this 23rd Bond film, M and MI-6 are under attack, and it’s up to 007 to track down and destroy the threat. He does it in style, proving once more that Bond truly is the master of resurrection.

Sam Mendes makes a brilliant directing debut with the series, showing he actually earned all of his Oscars and Tonys for other films over the years. Daniel Craig returns for the third time as Bond, along with Judi Dench playing M, and introducing Ben Whishaw and Naomi Harris as Q and Moneypenny, respectively.

Bayard:

From a thriller standpoint, SKYFALL has it all. Fast pace, nail-biting tension, creative chases, and explosions that will warm the heart of twenty-something pyrotechnics lovers. There’s even a tiny snafu that might have you wondering, “Which side was that?” But I suspect that will only end up making the movie more loved for being a bit flawed like the rest of us.

While cutting edge with a modern feel and new, young characters, SKYFALL still honors the classic qualities of Bond. It not only takes us for one more spin in 007’s iconic Aston Martin DB5, it treats us to colorful locales, mysterious people, and even exotic animals. Though I feel compelled to note those komodo dragons must be on a diet of digitally enhanced Twinkies and MLB steroids to get that big.

This 50th Anniversary installment continues to develop the three-dimensional character brought to the fore with the Craig incarnation of the series, and we find out more details of Bond’s early life and home. Only one Bond behavior strikes me as being particularly out of character. He allows his MI-6 co-worker to shave him with an old-fashioned straight razor. A certain spook I know *glances down the page* can barely sit still for his wife of decades to cut his hair. He would rather suck broken glass through a straw up his nose than allow anyone near his throat with a sharp object.

Holmes:

It’s not easy to take an old, worn out basic story line like the “stolen master list” and make a watchable movie out of it after so many have tried and failed, but SKYFALL does it. The entire production is excellent, and this is a great addition to the Bond series.

As to the normal “spy flick” questions, here we go . . .

No, it’s not terribly realistic, but that’s fortunate. Who really wants to watch a bunch of guys in filthy, third world hovels passing long hours trying to get something done? SKYFALL is definitely unrealistic, and that’s why it’s superbly entertaining.

Can you use light sockets to make nail bombs? Yes. But not with the method employed in the movie. So all you middle school boys reading this can leave those light fixtures alone. You’ll only succeed in infuriating your parents without getting any real explosions.

The palm ID feature of Bond’s new Walther will thrill gun control nuts the world over. And yes. Tracking radios that size and smaller do work in the real world. The smallest model would be useless in an action flick because they would need a macro lens shot to show it.

There is a theme throughout SKYFALL of a rift between the old HUMINT (human intelligence) hands and the rest of the intelligence community. In the real world, there are plenty of old spooks. The problem with operatives getting good at the job is that organizations generally don’t want them to leave, and they don’t know how to leave, anyway. The idea that younger spooks see the older spooks and their methods as irrelevant is 99% false. Only politicians and whiny media types do that. I suspect this is just as true in MI-6 as it is in American intelligence organizations.

Now for the negatives. The script is a bit weak in a couple of places, but that’s about the only complaint I have.

The positives are many. The acting ranges from fair to excellent. The camera work and editing are great. I hope the editing crew and directors from BOURNE LEGACY see this movie so they can get an idea of how one might make a movie if one combines intention with talent.

The opening chase scene includes a “drive through the market chase” and a novel “top of the train” scene. I won’t ruin them for you. I’ll just say they are very well done, evidencing a good deal of time and effort.

The fighting and shooting scenes are articulate and reasonable. There were no magic weapons with infinite shots, and there were a couple of original touches I think viewers will enjoy.

In a return to earlier Bond style, SKYFALL delivers craftily woven levity. However, the sex was a notch lower than more traditional Bonds. Sorry guys. The producers skimped on their usual “legions of young woman in small bikinis” device, but there is still plenty of movie here.

The four years we waited for a new Bond film were well used by the entire production cast to create a movie that entertains without the viewer having to try too hard. They ALL got it right.

We highly recommend SKYFALL to anyone who enjoys action films. Few movies will ever achieve this level of production quality. Bravo to the Bond team!

We give SKYFALL a .357 magnum +P rating. This is our second highest rating, and it means we would actually pay prime time theater prices if we could stand the crowd. It only fails to achieve our highest rating, the .44 magnum, because we reserve that for films that might enlighten or inspire some of the viewers. You may not be enlightened or inspired by SKYFALL, but you will almost certainly be entertained.

 

Bayard, Holmes, Movie, No Popcorn – ARGO

By Piper Bayard and Jay Holmes

ARGO movie poster

ARGO is a movie thriller based on Operation ARGO, a CIA undertaking lead by CIA employee Tony Mendez to rescue six US Embassy employees who avoided capture by the Iranian criminals who violated the US Embassy in Tehran in 1979. Ben Affleck directs and stars as Tony Mendez. He is supported by fellow stars Alan Arkin, John Goodman, and Bryon Kranston.

Bayard

George Clooney is one of the producers of this movie, and he makes his mark immediately. ARGO opens with an American apologist historical spin, implying Iran was a happy, thriving utopia right up until big, bad US came in to set up Shah Pahlavi and steal all of the oil. For an actual historical perspective of this time period rather than the fictional version George Clooney offers, see Iran’s Present is Iran’s Past – Part VI, Rise of the Ayatollahs.

Once past the first few historically offensive minutes, ARGO becomes an excellent movie that superbly conveys the intensity of the Iranian Hostage Crisis. In 1979, Americans were horrified at the unprecedented savagery of an attack on our diplomatic enclave. Even the ruthless Japanese Empire had not stooped so low during WWII. Across the country, we were united in front of the evening news, watching daily for something positive as the stress of the crisis and the brutal stories from friends and relatives who’d escaped became a constant background tension in our collective psyche as a nation.

image from ARGO movie

The escape of the six to Canada was a vital success for the West. It not only gave us hope through the long months of that untenable situation, but it renewed our faith in our good neighbors to the north, along with our other genuine allies. ARGO successfully captures the barbarity of the attack to Westerners and to decent Iranians, as well as the intensity of what the hostage crisis and the escape of the six meant to America.

One thing I appreciate most about ARGO is the sarcastic humor, which is expertly laced through the movie. There are some actual laugh-out-loud moments, usually thanks to Arkin and Goodman, that are just enough to prevent the dark subject matter from becoming overwhelming.

Overall, I thoroughly appreciated and enjoyed ARGO, and I would definitely recommend it.

Ben Affleck as Tony Mendez, image from ARGO movie

Holmes

I enjoyed the movie and I am glad I saw it. The story line does not completely follow reality and, fortunately, a few key players are left out of the movie version. Affleck was not attempting to produce a CIA training manual; he was trying to create a watchable movie and he succeeded. He and the producers can be forgiven, and in fact thanked, for not being completely accurate.

Before I give kudos to the folks who made the movie a success, I should take a moment to express my humble but heartfelt gratitude to then Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor and his wife Pat, Canadian Immigration Officer John Sheardown, the Government of Canada, the Embassy and Government of Sweden, and several other brave souls, including Iranians, who will remain unknown. Without their moral and physical courage, the movie would not have been made because the six Americans who escaped the attack on the US Embassy would likely not have survived.

image from US State Department, public domain

As for the movie version of what occurred, I congratulate Ben Affleck for a very good job of acting and directing. Ben, you DON’T look like Tony Mendez, and I’m sure that will help Tony keep his personal life peaceful.

Alan Arkin did what Alan Arkin always does. He’s believable and humorous. Arkin and John Goodman combine to add a great touch to the movie. They play a couple of Hollywood insiders who conspire to help the CIA pull off the unlikely mission. Their performances alone are enough reason to see this movie. To those who follow Hollywood, it might seem implausible that anyone from that world would ever help the CIA. But Hollywood did just that on both this and other occasions, proving not everyone there is a self-absorbed, ignorant degenerate. There are decent people there, as well.

John Goodman and Alan Arkin, image from ARGO movie

The acting was well done all the way through the movie, including those bearded bad guys and the screaming imbeciles in the streets. You might feel a need to cluster bomb them throughout the film, but that just proves they are doing a good job of acting. Leave your cluster bombs and any other heavy weapons at home, please.

The editors did a fine job of weaving in a bit of historical footage without causing the usual brain twist that we normally suffer when historical footage is inserted in a movie. The lighting, sound, and camera work were perfect.

If you want a historical documentary, this isn’t it, but it’s still close enough for the documentary seekers to watch since no good documentaries are available for the events depicted.

As a cranky old spook, it’s often difficult for me to sit through a “spook drama” but I enjoyed this film. Fellow Yankees fans should momentarily forgive the Red Sox fan Affleck his many sins, both real and imagined, and enjoy this tense thriller. I can’t promise that you will be thrilled, but you should be well entertained. However, reasonable and responsible parents should not bring children under twelve to have them frightened by this movie.

Tony Mendez and President Jimmy Carter, image from cia.gov

Holmes and I give ARGO a qualified .44 Magnum rating, which is our highest level of cinematic esteem. It won’t actually change your life unless you happen to experience some sort of spiritual epiphany while in the bathroom at the theater or with your significant other in a dark theater parking lot. But this movie can somewhat illuminate one’s historical perspective, and it can certainly entertain a wide audience.

Have fun at the theater, and don’t get caught being socially inappropriate in the parking lot.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Bourne in Hell . . . Review of “The Bourne Legacy”

By Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

The Bourne Legacy is born from the trilogy of Matt Damon Bourne movies and is intended to give birth to a new flood of cash. After rogue agent Jason Bourne does his superspy tap dance across the CIA in the previous three movies, that agency decides to terminate operations coming from Treadstone, the top secret project creating ultimate warriors like Bourne. Terminating operations means murdering all of the people connected with them. One of these uber-soldiers, Aaron Cross (played by Jeremy Renner), manages to escape his execution and goes on the run with one of the doctors who helped create his super powers, Dr. Marta Shearing (played by Rachel Weisz).

We’ll tell you right up front that we didn’t like this overblown excuse for a movie, but that was definitely due to no fault of the actors. They did the best they could have done with this cinematic travesty. In fact, the acting was the only redeeming quality of the entire two miserable hours.

image from en.wikipedia.org

Now for our individual observations.

Bayard:

Understanding that this is fiction, I’m generally pretty charitable with movies. However, I do not give them license to be stupid. Shortly into this movie, I knew The Bourne Legacy crossed that IQ line when I cracked up laughing, thinking, “What? He’s got a rifle? Why didn’t he just shoot the damn ****** instead of dancing with them?”

It did not get better. In fact, about a half an hour in, I had to stop myself from moo-ing because The Bourne Legacy is what I call a Dairy Farm Movie. I understand that the movie business, like every other business, is in the business of making money. But movies, books, paintings, dance, etc. should give us something in exchange for that money, and that something should not be to treat us like cash cows to be milked.

As an author, I’ll say I found this story sorely lacking in structure. It has a beginning; it has a middle, a middle, and another middle, all of which consist of chase scenes punctuated by an occasional dramatic pause. In fact, if it’s true that visualizing a physical activity is almost as effective as doing the thing, I burned at least 5k calories watching these chase scenes. It finally got to the point that I thought I’d taken a wrong turn and ended up in The Terminator.

Unlike The Terminator, though, The Bourne Legacy has no actual end beyond a trite committee meeting held with people who would have already known about the project in the first place for it to exist at all. At no time do the “white hats” actually take charge of the situation and dominate the “black hats” to obtain satisfying resolution to the story problem.

Bottom line? I want those two hours of my life back, please. I could have been ironing my pantyhose or watching my dog catch flies.

Holmes:

This movie was Bourne in Hell, and then it got worse.

It’s rare for me to walk out on a movie, but if I hadn’t been there to review it, I would not have stayed. Generally, if I’m going to review a movie, I watch it at least twice so I can catch more detail and find more things to appreciate about it. I’m sorry, folks. I did my best but I can’t tolerate The Bourne Legacy a second time. All I can offer is my honest first impressions.

If a movie with a well-developed plot or great action is what you seek, then by all means spare yourself the agony of sitting through this one.  And if you’re hoping to see a Jason Bourne movie, it isn’t one of those, either. The producers saved themselves a bundle by only flashing a brief glimpse of Matt Damon’s photograph rather than hiring the actual actor.

As to plausibility of the movie concept, there isn’t one. I won’t claim that the CIA has never, ever killed anyone, but it is not their normal and customary practice to run around killing each other. No intelligence organization in a democratic society could sustain itself by routinely murdering its own employees or citizens. That was standard operating procedure for the Soviet Union, and you see how well that worked out for them.

Most of the “action” scenes are severely edited, resulting in a hint of action amidst abundant kinetic energy. It’s more like a stop-action animation film with bad editing. For example, one moment a woman is upright on a motorcycle, and the next she is falling off the side, clinging to a bus, but we never see how this happens. It is frenetic activity, but it is not fluid action.

This is, unfortunately, a money-saving trend in modern films. While they clearly saved a lot of cash by cheating on the action scenes in The Bourne Legacy with staccato film editing, it gave me annoyance rather than the tension and interest it was supposed to be creating.

And the plot?  Are the writers on strike again?

So far some critics have been upset by the lack of an “ending” to The Bourne Legacy. I’ll let them slide on the ending. If you never quite start the movie, why should you have to end it? Besides, in the case of The Bourne Legacy, my favorite thing about the movie is that it finally stopped when it did, though sooner would have been better.

At the “end” the non-action switches abruptly to a non-love scene. We are all better off not seeing that love scene. It would have no doubt amounted to something like “Fifty Shades of Bilge Grease” or “Last Tango in a Tropical Hell.” I want to personally thank the writer and producer for sparing me that agony.

On the positive side, if you haven’t seen this movie yet, it’s not to late to avoid the pain. If you have ten bucks that are burning a hole in your pocket and you are in dire need of some action, then use the cash to buy a pair of knitting needles and a skein of wool. Learning to knit would be a better bet for entertainment than paying to see The Bourne Legacy.

The Bourne Legacy will soon be coming to a theater near you! Warn your loved ones!

Rating:

The Bourne Legacy earns our first Dud Chinese-Manufactured Ammo* rating. We know better than to look for documentary style reality in movies, but this film did not bother to employ the many modern techniques available for producing a satisfying story or exciting action scenes. If you’re looking for action or for a movie, this isn’t either.

Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

*Our Movie Rating System:

  • Dud Chinese-manufactured ammo: Stay home and do housework. You’ll have more fun.
  • .22 rim fire:  Not worth the big screen, but ok to rent.
  • .380: Go to the matinée if someone else is paying.
  • .38 special: Worth paying for the matinée yourself.
  • .357 magnum: Okay to upgrade to prime time if you can stand the crowd.
  • .44 magnum: Must see this. Potentially life-altering event.

Piper Bayard is a recovering attorney with a university degree or two. She currently pens post-apocalyptic sci-fi and spy novels with Holmes when she isn’t shooting, SCUBA diving, or chauffeuring her children.

‘Jay Holmes’, is an intelligence veteran of the Cold War and remains an anonymous member of the intelligence community. Piper is the public face of their partnership.

You may contact them in blog comments, on Twitter at @piperbayard, on Facebook at Piper Bayard, or by email at BH@BayardandHolmes.com.

© 2012 Piper Bayard. All content on this page is protected by copyright. If you would like to use any part of this, please contact us at the above links to request permission.

Bayard, Holmes, Movie, No Popcorn – Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

By Piper Bayard and Jay Holmes

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a movie based on Jean Le Carre’s novel by the same name. It’s the story of George Smiley and his efforts to root out a mole in MI-6 during the Cold War. Gary Oldman takes the lead with a heavy hitting cast including John Hurt and Colin Firth.

Bayard

Jean Le Carre is the pen name of David John Moore Cornwell. Cornwell worked for the British Intelligence Services MI-5 and MI-6 from 1952 until 1964, during the time the Cambridge Five were passing information from those agencies to the Soviets. (See Holmes on the Cambridge Forty in Archives.) Some sources say one of their leaders, Kim Philby, worked behind the scenes to have Cornwell dismissed from MI-6 and gave his name to the Soviets, ending Cornwell’s intelligence career.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is the novelisation of the hunt for the Cambridge spies, and the mole Smiley is searching for is based on Kim Philby. Let this be a reminder to all of you who know authors. Don’t mess with us or your dastardly deeds will be immortalized.

As a veteran of the Cold War, Holmes’ comments regarding the nature of this movie are far more erudite than my own so I will leave further analysis to him. However, this movie did have me asking him one question. Do top-level intelligence officers actually pause and stare meaningfully at each other that often during the course of their days?

His answer when he quit laughing? “They do sometimes get very quiet in meetings when they are thinking. In this movie, though, they were giving the audience time to think. It had to do with the complexity of the movie and not with intelligence procedures.”

Holmes

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is, in my view, one of the more realistic spy films that I have seen. If you’re in the mood for wild chase scenes, lots of beautiful, naked women, handsome hunks, and running gun fights, keep looking. This isn’t it. If, on the other hand, you want a realistic story about Cold War spooks, this is a movie well worth watching.

This is a spy movie but not an “action” movie. Much of the action that needs to take place is in the viewer’s mind. The viewer is given more than enough information to resolve all of the questions as long as the viewer stays engaged with the plot. This is not a movie to go to if your brain is tired and you need a laugh, graphic sex scenes or loud explosions.

If you intend to grope whomever you bring to the theater with you, go alone and grope them later. That tactic worked well for my wife and I. She went shopping, whereby she presumably temporarily avoided being groped by a dangerous man in a dark room, and I saw the movie while not allowing myself to be too distracted by any thoughts of groping. After giving fair warning to my young adult children that there would be no sex or wild shoot outs in the movie, they declined to see it. So I sat alone in the theater and, after politely asking* the elderly couple in the row in front of me to please stop their overt and not at all silent groping activity, I allowed myself to be carried back to rainy London nights during the Cold War.

Before I get on with the movie, let me take a moment to issue an important public service message. If you are between the ages of 18 and 40, please don’t embarrass me by making your groping activities too obvious while sitting near me. If you are over forty, I am even less inclined to tolerate your overt groping. If you lack the skills to grope your play partner properly and discreetly without annoying grumpy old cranks like me, then by all means stay at home and grope away as you please or until the Viagra runs out.

The movie (once you scare away any local gropers) is about the search for a mole in British MI-6 by George Smiley, a recently retired deputy director. The retired spy finds himself being asked by run-of-the-mill cowardly, sleazebag politicians to ferret out a possible mole without rocking any political boats. In a better world, the politicians would pretend for a moment that they were not slimy worms, and they would order a full and immediate investigation without concern for political fallout. Poor George Smiley lives in our world so he knows that probably won’t happen, and he agrees to take on the thankless task.

If you pay attention in this part of the movie, you will catch a brilliantly played split second when Smiley considers giving in to his emotions and throwing the politician from the high spot that they occupy at the meeting. You can read his mind and sympathize with him. From your seat in the theater, you’ll be wanting to smack these supercilious bastards.

Even though Smiley knows that he can more easily get the job done without them wasting more of the world’s oxygen supply, he relies on his well-honed self discipline, ignores their insults, and gets on with the task at hand. Which is as it should be because if we all give in to our darkest instincts, our world will soon look like Iraq does this week, and the whole reason for having an MI-6 is to keep that from happening. So future spooks who are reading this, remember . . . leave seemingly urgent questions of justice to God and the voters and concentrate on your work.

Smiley is handicapped by a lack of resources and by the need to keep his investigation quiet, but he and his capable assistants rely on their collective experience and sharp minds to get things done. Smiley uses every spook’s most important weapon to crack the case. His brain.

The movie was well cast, well acted, and well directed. The director skillfully used the dreary scenery and the music to portray the dread and depression that a George Smiley would feel in his circumstances. He has to contend with feelings of betrayal and trepidation at what a mole might mean for him and for his country without letting it all overwhelm him and render him useless. He has to ignore personal feelings and likes and dislikes to peer at a smoke-filled reality through multiple warped lenses to glimpse the truth.

The movie clearly and realistically portrays that dynamic, and the viewer can easily imagine himself in the same situation and can ask himself how he/she would deal with the same. Who do you have that can help? Who would you call first? Who would you avoid? How will you get to the files that you want without alarming anyone? Who can you trust?

As long as we remember what audience this movie is for, I can’t see any reason to offer any criticisms of this film. The plot holes were so minute as to make them meaningless. Don’t even look for them. Just enjoy the movie completely.

This movie won’t change your life unless it scares you off from seeking a job in intelligence, or you get arrested for overt public groping. But it will give you more insight into one aspect of the intelligence world and its complicated history. It’s a very good movie. Movies that can keep you awake without sex and explosions are rare so don’t miss this one. We give it a .44 magnum rating** and we’ll actually pay to go watch this movie again.

Have you read this book or seen this movie? Will you go to a movie without explosions?

*Piper’s Note: Someone pleeeeeease ask Holmes what constitutes “politely asking.”

**Our Movie Rating System:

  • Dud Chinese-manufactured ammo: Stay home and do housework. You’ll have more fun.
  • .22 rim fire:  Not worth the big screen, but ok to rent.
  • .380: Go to the matinée if someone else is paying.
  • .38 special: Worth paying for the matinée yourself.
  • .357 magnum: Okay to upgrade to prime time if you can stand the crowd.
  • .44 magnum: Must see this. Potentially life-altering event.

Bayard, Holmes, Movie, No Popcorn: The Ides of March

The Ides of March is a political drama about idealistic campaign staffer Stephen Meyers (played by Ryan Gosling) who loses his idealistic values the instant they are diametrically opposed to his own survival. The movie stars George Clooney as George Clooney, but in the movie he goes by the name Governor Mike Morris. It also stars Evan Rachel Wood, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and Paul Giamatta.

Bayard:

This movie left me saying, “Where’s the beef?” Because it definitely has more bun than burger. Overall, it was a beautifully produced non-story about a guy who was a skumbag all along and just didn’t know it until he had his shallow dogma challenged by reality.

As an author, I felt this movie took far too long to get any real tension going. Then, once it did, it never delivered resolution. The twenty minutes of actual story line were imbedded in an hour and a half of drawn-out, mundane details, such as climbing staircases and delivering coffee.

The most accurate comparison I can think of is Taco Bell “taco meat,” which is alleged to be around 36% meat and 65% fillers.

Or maybe it’s better compared to an overpriced, “prize inside” box of cereal. Lots of anticipation with no payoff, so when the movie ended, I felt like I’d eaten a lot of cereal, only to be cheated out of the action figure at the bottom of the box.

Perhaps it’s all of this talk about food, or pseudo-food, but right now, I would advise that you spend your money on a decent meal rather than see this movie at the theater. That’s why I’m going to break with the critics and rate this as a .22 rim fire*. It doesn’t justify the big screen, but it would be ok to rent.

Once it comes out on DVD, if you need one of those kinds of movies that’s just an excuse to sit next to someone on a couch to get to know them better, this would be a good one. The boring beginning will give you lots of opportunity to casually get closer to each other without missing anything.

Holmes:

The very popular George Clooney does a good job of playing George Clooney.  His long years of practice in that role show in his performance.

This film was also directed and written by George. If you’re looking for hard hitting drama or sophisticated political intrigue in this film, you might be disappointed. It’s less about a political intrigue, and more about George’s sense of urgency in letting us know what his political views are. To avoid that disappointment, just have fun and view it the way you would view a neighbor’s long video of their toddlers playing with the garden hose.

Philip Seymour Hoffman as Paul Zara

If George Clooney is somewhat limited in what personalities he portrays as an actor, he can at least take pride in his production skills. George was skillful in his casting choices. Philip Seymour Hoffman was Clooney’s first excellent choice. In one of the critical roles, Philip was very convincing in his portrayal of experienced, no-nonsense campaign warrior, Paul Zara.

Ryan Gosling plays a cute little energetic political baby goose, Stephen Meyers. He fills the role very effectively.

Ryan Gosling as Stephen Meyers

Evan Rachel Wood did a nice job playing the careless young seductress, Molly Stearns, who is away from home and taking ownership of her exciting new hormones. I enjoyed that she was not made up to enter each scene as a perfect Goddess of Eroticism. She’s attractive, but she’s not airbrushed. One of the things I enjoyed in this film is that this sexually available young intern isn’t demonized as a political home wrecker. Whatever blue dresses she might have in her closet, George doesn’t blame her for them.

Evan Rachel Wood as Molly Stearns

The lighting, camera work, and editing were nicely done. I was happy to see George step away from standard procedures and make a few risky decisions with the camera work and lighting.

The music was very dramatic and well timed, but the sound work could have used a little improvement. I suppose that monotone mumbling is important for keeping political conversations private in campaigns, but those of us who didn’t write the script can’t follow it quite as easily as the writer/director.

I thank Mister Clooney for shunning the use of the usually aggravating  “queasy cam.” The dramatic music begged at least one car chase and two shoot outs, but George avoided those mistakes, as well.

While the production qualities were good, the story struck as not being quite developed. For me, it flowed like a college freshman’s weekly English paper. Professors don’t want to grade long, complex papers so the freshmen are stuck keeping it short and simple. In my opinion, this story failed to reach it’s potential. If a little more effort had gone into the writing, it could have been a great film.

George, the next time you and your pals are going to burn up a mountain of cash on producing a film, just contact us first, and we’ll be happy to hook you up with some great writers. With so much talent and production quality involved in a movie, you could easily produce a great film rather than a campaign speech.

The earliest reviews of this film were very high, but I am also going to break with the majority of critics by giving this film a .38 Special rating. You won’t kick yourself for going, but try to avoid paying full price. This would be a handy matinee because you would leave entertained, but not intellectually or emotionally drained. You would easily be able to return to work and do your job or finish those domestic chores.

George, if you think we’ve been unfair, you are free to submit a rebuttal.

Have you seen Ides of March? What did you think? What other movies would you like us to review?

Piper Bayard–The Pale Writer of the Apocalypse

Holmes–Student of Sex, C4, and Hollow Points

*Bayard & Holmes Movie Ratings (We prefer ammo. Thumbs are so yesterday.)

  • Dud Chinese-manufactured ammo: Stay home and do housework. You’ll have more fun.
  • .22 rim fire:  Not worth the big screen, but ok to rent.
  • .380: Go to the matinee if someone else is paying.
  • .38 special: Worth paying for the matinee yourself.
  • .357 magnum: Okay to upgrade to prime time if you can stand the crowd.
  • .44 magnum: Must see this. Life-altering event.

Moving Past Potter

By Piper Bayard and Jay Holmes

Childhood’s end. The final Harry Potter. As Holmes and I look around, we find that, with Deathly Hallows, Part II out in the theaters, we are surrounded by fans in various stages of the Kubler-Ross grief process.

  1. Denial – “No. This can’t be happening! On that YouTube video J.K. Rowling talked about Pottermore and said she’ll be sharing information she’s been hoarding all these years. There must be another book.” *re-reads whole series while telling himself next book will be out before he finishes number seven for tenth time*
  2. Anger – “What do you mean there’s no more books? What do you mean Pottermore is just milking more money out of us for the same old stories? How can this be happening to me?” *gives spare copy of book two to niece and says he never wants to see it or speak to it again*
  3. Bargaining – “Let’s start a petition. No, . . . I know. We’ll kidnap J.K. Rowling like in Misery and tell her she can have her freedom for seven more Potter books.” *slips in through niece’s window and steals spare book two back*
  4. Depression – “Dear God! Why live?” *puts on Gryffindor robes and curls up in fetal position around all seven books*
  5. Acceptance – “It’s real. It’s happening. Harry Potter is gone. I must find healthy ways to fill the void and move on.” *extracts books from soggy piles of Kleenex covering bed and puts them on shelf next to VHS tapes of Star Trek movies*

Fear not, Potter fans! Here at Bayard & Holmes, we see your suffering, and we’re here to help. We have the following suggestions to help you move beyond Harry Potter and begin to live again:

  • Develop a taste for brandy.
  • Set up a telescope in your window and get to know your neighbors.
  • Put on a gas mask and play with your household chemicals.
  • Run through an airport in your skivvies and say it’s ok, that you’re a US Airways passenger.
  • Take the foot stirrups off of your broom and use it to sweep your porch.
  • Practice fantasizing about a date with a member of the opposite sex. Someone not named Harry, Ron, or Hermione.

If you find that it’s just impossible to find a new normal in a Potterless world, we have some great news for you. The Potter series isn’t really over! We have discovered through special intelligence channels involving owls, invisible ink, and a shoe phone that J.K. Rowling has hidden many magical stories and prophesies in the existing books. But they can only be discovered by the most worthy of fans who are willing to start with book seven and read the entire series backward. Out loud.

Had we bothered to read book seven backward in time, we would have known about Professor Trelawney’s prediction of the Rupert Murdock scandal. In chapter four of book six, we would learn from Draco Malfoy that there won’t be peace in the Middle East in this year century. In the second chapter of the third book, Harry has a revelation while playing quidditch that the Chicago Cubs don’t win the World Series in this or any other decade. And in book one, chapter twenty-four, Hermione finds a forbidden missive that says Tina Fey will win the 2012 Presidential Election, and Sarah Palin will be hired as her body double to fool any potential assassins.

Where are you at in your Harry Potter grief cycle? What prophecies have you discovered while reading Harry Potter backwards?

All the best to all of you for keeping your head out of the oven.