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.

 

The True Story of the D-Day Spies: Double Cross

By Jay Holmes

DOUBLE CROSS addresses one of the more complex and important intelligence operations of World War Two. It explains how the UK’s MI-5 Counter Intelligence division quite effectively turned and managed German spies in an attempt to deceive Germany about the Allied plans for the invasion of Western Europe in 1944.

The first thing about this book that jumps out is its readability. Great Britain’s operation for running double agents involved many people and many details. The details can be tedious to consider, but without considering enough of them, these operations can’t be reasonably understood. MacIntyre has done a brilliant job of presenting enough details without making the book read like a boring bureaucratic report. I envy his ability to present such a complex and important piece of history in such a readable form.

Good history writers do good research—lots of it—and Ben MacIntyre certainly did his. But he did something else as well. He very skillfully analyzed the collected data and produced an accurate and clear interpretation of the facts. I’ve never met Ben MacIntyre, but if he was never a spook, he should have been one. For us.

In DOUBLE CROSS, McIntyre manages to present personalities from both sides of that terrible war in very human form. He demonstrates how imperfect people from diverse backgrounds working for MI-5 shared that one essential quality that any effective intelligence person must have. They shared a genuine commitment to their mission. In this case, their mission was to help defeat Nazi Germany. By most traditional standards, the agents would not appear to be “cut from the right cloth.” In some instances their handlers committed blunders in dealing with them. The book clearly shows the reasons why each of them might have failed miserably, as well as why they didn’t.

I had previously read and enjoyed a couple of MacIntyre’s books, but so far, this must be his masterpiece. I have no hesitation in giving this book a Five Star rating on the Five Star scale. It’s not a movie but I can’t help but assign our Bayard and Holmes “.44-Magnum” rating because I so rarely get to use that top assessment. Anyone with interest in World War Two or the world of intelligence operations, or who simply likes good action stories, should absolutely read this book. It’s purely a great book.

image from Bloomsbury.com

Bravo to Ben MacIntyre for staying awake and on course through so many hours of work reading thousands of pages of documents to get to the critical facts. Well done!

You can find DOUBLE CROSS, along with MacIntyre’s other books, at Ben MacIntyre: Books, Biography, Blog, Audiobooks, Kindle.

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

© 2012 Jay Holmes. 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 – 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.

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No Easy Day, Just an Easy Paycheck

By Jay Holmes

As most folks know by now, on Tuesday, September 4, 2012 author “Mark Owen” will release “No Easy Day,” a first hand account of the Osama Bin Laden mission. I have not read the book and will not guess at the veracity of its contents, but I find the controversy surrounding the release of the book rather interesting.

image from amazon.com

The author is a US Navy SEAL who was on the mission to kill (or capture) Osama Bin Laden. My guess is that the average American and many Europeans will be anxious to read about the details of the raid on Bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan. The author apparently made that assumption as well and proceeded to write and publish his book. Some members of the SEALs have expressed their displeasure over the release of the book and have stated that they feel the author has violated the SEALs’ rule of never revealing secrets about their missions.

About two weeks ago, I became aware that the Pentagon was “concerned” about the release of the book because the book had not gone through its review process—a process which the Pentagon routinely requires for books about military operations, procedures, facilities, equipment, etc. that are published by members and ex-members of the US military. A Pentagon spokesman even mentioned that the Pentagon wished it COULD review the book prior to its release. Apparently, the mere Pentagon with its military judicial system, backed up by the US Justice Department, is helpless in the face of an author and a publishing company and could only WISH to see the book before its then-projected September 11 release date.

Is this the same Pentagon that routinely invites people to vacation in Guantanamo, Cuba so it can ask whatever questions it or the CIA might have on their numerous and well financed minds? Am I to believe that the same Pentagon that commands the greatest military force in history has been left begging to review a book before its release, while media members stroll through fashionable Georgetown restaurants flashing their copies? It’s summertime. Perhaps a few hundred thousand people in the military and at the Justice Department have all gone on extended vacation, and the Pentagon simply can’t get anyone to answer the phone. Maybe they forgot to pay the bill and the phones are shut off.

Maybe. But maybe not. The Pentagon, the Justice Department, and the White House, along with lots of other government agencies, have always proven themselves quite agile when it comes to reviewing and redacting books before publication, and even suppressing books after publication. In fact, their willingness to redact has nearly rendered the Freedom of Information Act useless. But I’ll save my personal anger over those black ink wielding clowns in Washington for another day.

On August 30, 2012 a Pentagon spokesman, apparently just returned from a long vacation or an exceedingly long nap, announced that the Pentagon will use “all legal means available” to do something about “No Easy Day,” but they haven’t quite figured out what that might be. Apparently, too many folks have not yet returned from their vacations. My point today is that I simply can’t buy the helplessness that the Pentagon is presenting to the public concerning “No Easy Day.”

So what’s with all the theatrics? Is someone in the White House or Pentagon hoping to drive up sales of the book? Why would they do that? What politician, if any, will be assisted by the publication of “No Easy Day”? I have no idea. I suppose that I will have to grit my teeth, pay for a copy and then decide.  I haven’t convinced myself to take the bait. I still haven’t recovered from the indignity of paying to see “The Bourne Legacy,” and I don’t want to be duped by what might turn out to be “One Easy Political Scam.” Who knows? Perhaps it’s a great book without any hidden agendas. Time will tell.

I suppose that I will eventually cave in and read the book. In the meantime, I would love to know what the hell is going on over at the Pentagon when they can’t lay their hands on a copy of a book or remember how to “invite” someone in for a frank conversation about the rules. If this is really the state of affairs in the Pentagon, then someone’s mother or the taxpayers should take away all of their expensive and dangerous toys until they remember how to behave like grown up bureaucrats.

Interestingly, since the Pentagon announced its “concerns” and made a great show of public hand-wringing, sales of “No Easy Day” have soared to well over half a million. My writing partner and I are thinking there’s a great a marketing opportunity in this for some of us thriller authors. After all, having the Pentagon upset about our book would be more publicity than we could ever afford to purchase for ourselves.

Therefore, we hereby officially announce that our current work in progress will include titillating and previously untold facts concerning how a special forces team kidnapped Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and installed a puppet alien life form to rule in his place. We will also reveal details about how the Pentagon has created a portable black hole device that can suck in cash at a velocity greater than the speed of light. Only those who buy our book will ever know these great national secrets, and we certainly hope for the sake of our sales that the Pentagon will wake up in time to express its anxiety about the fact that we did not ask them to review it first.

Top Secret preview from our upcoming book, the actual alien life form known as Hugo Chavez captured on film by David Shankbone.

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

© 2012 Jay Holmes. 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.

Chasing the Hill: Not Just Fake Politics

Review, Chasing the Hill

By Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

 

Emmy nominee Brent Roske, Creator and Executive Producer of the new internet TV show, “Chasing the Hill,” has done the impossible. He has created a show about politics during campaign season that not only didn’t have us shoving our heads in a wood chipper, it had us watching it a second time.

In “Chasing the Hill,” California Representative Kristina Ryan is attempting to win re-election for a third term. Normally, as a Democratic Party incumbent in southern California, her election would be a slam-dunk affair. Unfortunately for her campaign, she was recently involved in a nasty scandal and she is now behind in the polls. The pilot shows her campaign team as they do their best to overcome her recent scandal and get her re-elected.

Non-partisan interviews with actual elected officials are included before the episode and after the show in a segment called “Chasing Chasing the Hill.”

The cast includes Robin Weigert of “Deadwood” fame as well as “West Wing” alums Matthew Del Negro, Joshua Malina, and Melissa Fitzgerald.

Now for our individual comments.

Bayard:

I didn’t just enjoy “Chasing the Hill,” I enjoyed it even more the second time I watched it. The dialogue is clever and often humorous, and the acting is excellent. I almost felt like I was eavesdropping rather than watching a performance.

As a hard core moderate, the thing I appreciate most about “Chasing the Hill” is that it is a realistic political drama that is non-partisan. Although Rep. Ryan is a democrat, the show does not beat me about the head and shoulders with left-wing dogma. The pilot focuses on the behind-the-scenes action of politics and not on the politics themselves. In today’s election atmosphere of heightened partisanship, which is always detrimental to our country, it’s refreshing to see a show that so far makes every attempt to be politically objective.

Holmes:

I watched the pilot for “Chasing the Hill” twice this morning. I enjoyed it. So far, the characters are interesting enough to hold my attention. The filming and editing utilize the youthful production style of a docudrama, and at times they lend the feel of a documentary to the show. Also, the very sudden and pronounced delivery of some of the actors’ lines adds an interesting touch of 1890s stage production to the digital gestalt.

I enjoyed the non-traditional combination of editing, production, and directing styles for two reasons. For one thing, it was entertaining enough to justify my time. For another, I was happy to see an internet show that has thus far been well enough written, acted, and produced to survive in what remains a difficult internet market.

I am hoping that this show will be successful, and that more writers and producers will use the cost effective internet production method to highlight a wider variety of writers and ideas than what we find in more traditional TV fare.

The bottom line for me, though, is that I don’t regret spending my time and my $1.99 to watch it. Particularly during a campaign season, paying to watch a more interesting fake campaign in exchange for avoiding the plethora of nauseating political ads that plague the air waves made the price tag seem like a bargain.

If you have the time, go ahead and watch “Chasing the Hill.” I think there’s a good chance that you will enjoy it. If you are in a mood for serious commentary, you should also watch the “Chasing Chasing the Hill” segment that airs after the show.

The first season will have six episodes, which you can download at Chasing the Hill.

Together, Holmes and I give “Chasing the Hill” five stars. While it won’t make fake promises about world peace, your medical bills, or your outsourced job like a real political campaign does, this fake political campaign is real entertainment and absolutely worth your time and dime.

© 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: RED

Per a request from our reader, Ellie Ann Soderstrom, Holmes and I sat down together a while back to review the movie, RED. RED is a movie about a retired black-ops CIA agent who puts his old team back together when someone tries to assassinate him. Both Holmes and I found this film delightful, and we weren’t even drinking guinda that evening. . . .

RED Movie Poster

Bayard

I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. It’s what I think of as a “Nolan Ryan film.” For those of you who are not adherents of the faith of Baseball, as I am, Nolan Ryan pitched a perfect game in 1991 at the age of forty-four. In other words, he was an old dude showing the puppies how it’s done. Likewise, RED is a tribute to the timeless adage that age and treachery will win over youth and skill every time. I don’t know about you, but I like that theme more and more with every passing year.

As an author, one character I particularly appreciated was Frank, played by Bruce Willis. Frank is a kick-ass former government agent who reads romance novels and is sweet on Sarah (Mary Louise Parker), a customer service representative he’s only ever talked to on the phone. This caught my heart right away because there’s really something to that notion of the sensitive tough guy.

Over the years, I’ve known a variety of individuals who could reasonably be classified as, “bad-ass dudes.” Each and every one of them had a soft spot. . . . Some well-developed aspect of gentleness. . . . From a Hell’s Angel who photographed flowers to a Delta Force original who taught aikido to the softest, greenest civilians Continuing Education could send him. So the fact that Frank in the movie was a retired spook who read romance novels made him real and well-rounded to me right from the start.

As a belly dancer and a woman, I loved Helen Mirren’s evening dress with combat boots. As Mama always said, “Shoes and handbag make the outfit.” Mirren was brilliant in the role of Victoria, the high-class cross between Florence Nightingale and Attila the Hun that Frank used to work with.

I think this movie would be great fun for anyone who enjoys colorful, well-developed characters in extremely unrealistic situations.

Holmes:

If you’re looking for a serious spy story sort of movie, this wouldn’t be it, but if you want a laugh, this is a good movie for you. I don’t want to criticize the what-ifs because they weren’t trying to be serious. Even “old hands” from the Reagan Era can enjoy this movie. Just relax and don’t take it seriously.

Regarding the trick of putting bullets in a skillet and heating them up to make them fire. . . . Bullets only sound like they have been fired from a weapon if they are fired in a weapons chamber or test chamber. Bullets heated in a skillet would sound like the cheapest grade of half wet firecrackers. Also, pan frying bullets won’t fire the bullet, but shell casing fragments could fly fast enough to hurt your eye. Do not try this at home.

Joe, Marvin and Frank questioning a prisoner

As far as the Retired Extremely Dangerous designation is concerned, there is no big file of REDs. The two basic categories of retired CIA agents are “Retired and Willing to Work for Free” and “Retired and Not Willing to Work for Free.”

We rate this movie a .357, which means we wouldn’t resent paying prime time prices if we were willing to tolerate the prime time crowds, which we’re not. (Click here for rating system.) It was a creative, entertaining movie, and we can’t think of any reason why you wouldn’t want to enjoy it. It’s not deeply meaningful or life-changing, but it’s good, light fun. The script was well-written, the actors did their jobs well, and the production was high quality. We recommend this movie as an amusing way to spend a couple of hours of your life.

Bayard, Holmes, Movie, No Popcorn: The Mechanic

By Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

By popular request, Holmes and I went to see The Mechanic, a film about a hit man who kills his friend, and then takes in his friend’s son as his protégé. Jason Statham stars as Arthur Bishop, the hit man, and Ben Foster plays Steve McKenna, the pup he takes in. So here’s what an author/bellydancer and a man with experience in intelligence and covert operations have to say about this film. . . .

Overall, we think The Mechanic will rightfully appeal to people who like lots of action and explosions in their movies. There are several fun scenes that we won’t comment on because we don’t want to ruin the movie for you. However, Holmes and I agree the whole premise has a few drawbacks.

The first thing we spotted is that you don’t wait at the bottom of a pool to kill a guy, especially when you only have a small bottle of compressed air to breathe off of. What if that guy decides to shower or cozy up to one of his molls before he swims? You suffocate. And with four guys wielding machine guns outside the pool? No. You slip in when no one’s there, put a toxin in his swim goggles, and get gone, because the best place to be when your enemy dies is in another country.

Ben Foster as Steve McKenna

We also agree that no professional in any business knowingly pairs up with a mentally unstable, reckless individual. Even if Arthur had a momentary lapse of judgment out of compassion for his friend’s son, the first time the protégé deliberately disobeyed instructions, he’d be out the door wearing cement shoes. Professionals involved in any aspect of covert operations, legal or illegal, avoid associating with people who are obviously self-destructive because they just don’t recruit people who are going to burn down their world.

Now to our individual comments. I’m leaving this mostly to Holmes because of his expertise in covert operations.

Bayard:

As an author, I appreciated the smooth shifts in the antagonist focus. The Mechanic sorts through the bad guys and the good guys by bringing you along with the one consistent good guy. It’s an effective and artful way to traverse the twists of intrigue without dropping you into a high-speed blender.

And speaking of blenders, I liked that scene. You’ll know what I mean when you see it. Holmes liked it, as well, and thought it was one of the more plausible scenes in the film.

The Fantasy:  Handsome Arthur Bishop Always Wins

I don’t have any comments as a dancer, but as a woman, I can say that Arthur Bishop is a most appealing anti-hero. Very powerful and sexy with his own brand of integrity. Reality check to the ladies, though. Having a hit man for your love interest would have to seriously suck, no matter how handsome or smooth or classy he is, and most of them aren’t.  I mean, this is a guy who values cash above human life. Not only that, he’s gone all the time, he can’t say where or how long, and don’t even think about calling him. He’s the one going places and doing wild things. You’re the one working as a waitress in a sleazy bar, just hoping he’ll call.

Holmes

This movie is not for everyone. It’s an action flick, and there’s more action than flick here. The writers, producers, and directors seemed to follow the tried and true approach of adding more explosions, gunshots, and noise whenever the writing became difficult.

I would say that the acting is better than the script. The conversations appear to be some writer’s first impression of what conversations in the real world might actually be like. Given the vast number of unemployed writers who have life experience and social contacts, I find the lack of polish and effort regrettable. With the bare minimum of dialogue taping together the action scenes, this was the script version of Queasy Cam.

Also, in movies, as in real life, chase scenes and shootouts are much more dramatic after a calm interval. Part of what makes action interesting in an action movie is that contrast. The Mechanic would be better by a whole notch if they left out 10 minutes of violence and replaced it with 10 more minutes of character development, setting, and dialogue.

I thought the sex was just enough that I would not bring any of my nieces to this movie. The visual and verbal allusions to sadomasochistic sex do fit the hit man’s character, but, in my view, they create a smaller audience for this movie. If you’re a dad, and you find yourself willing to share these scenes with your daughter, consider giving your daughter up for adoption while there’s still time for her to develop sanity. For that matter, I wouldn’t bring any guy or gal under the age of fifteen to this movie.

Now, if you’re curious about the plausibility of this movie, here’s my take. Let’s not bother with the procedural errors because you weren’t hoping that this movie would be an assassination manual, and if you were, I wouldn’t want to help you, anyway. . . . So the plausibility of this highly glamorous, 5-star living Murder Incorporated racket is nill. Why would you pay $50 million to kill somebody when you could pay 20 sleazebags $10k each and see who gets him first?

The idea of some big organization with several teams of assassins all working together in a collegial environment, completing hits at a breakneck pace (no pun intended)—it just doesn’t happen. With that many people involved, the risk of them turning state’s evidence would be beyond control, not to mention the supply and demand issue. These are killers who don’t share a goal or a value. Their only value is money, and there’s no way to hold a group of people together without some other common value. Organized crime struggles with this every day. If you want to know the reality, read the news about Mexican drug cartels. They are what happens when the only common ideology is wealth.

Our Rating:

With a little more character, setting and script development The Mechanic could have been a .357, but, as it is, we have to rate it a .38 special. (Click here for rating system.) There were enough creative action scenes (action as in murder) to make the movie worth seeing for action movie enthusiasts. It has lots of nice explosions and creative use of such things as a bus, a garbage truck, and a garbage disposal. It’s certainly an improvement over the original Charles Bronson/Jan Michael-Vincent version, but if you require plausibility in a movie, stay home and read a good book.

If you’re interested in learning about the life of a real hit man, check out the book Blood Relation. In it, journalist Eric Konigsberg interviews his uncle Harold “Kayo” Konigsberg who was a freelance hit man for various Mafia families and is responsible for more than 20 murders.

Bayard, Holmes, Movie, No Popcorn: Black Swan

By Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

Black Swan is a psychodrama about a ballet dancer, Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman), who flips out in her quest for perfection. By popular request, Holmes and I recently went to see it so we could give you a review from the perspective of an author/bellydancer and a man with experience in intelligence and covert operations.

Holmes and I agree that Black Swan puts the psycho in psychodrama. Aside from the fact that we’ve both spent a great deal of effort eliminating psychos from our lives, and sitting in a room with them for two hours isn’t something we would ordinarily choose to do, we also agree that it was an excellent movie. Beware, however. Do not take your kids. As far as this small town girl and this rather worldly boy are concerned, Black Swan stretches its R rating to the limit.

We both also thought the queasy cam effects, while reflective of Nina’s growing instability, were a bit much. By the way, queasy cam is that documentary-type, shakey image that promotes a feel of instability and makes you seasick just watching it. Holmes says it well for both of us. “Charlie Chaplin and his pals went to great lengths to develop methods of avoiding that effect, and I wonder how horrified he would have been to see such violent camera work.”

Now on to our individual comments. . . .

Bayard:

I knew nothing about Black Swan when I walked in except for what I got out of the SNL skit the other night with Jim Carrey.

As an author, I was impressed with the character development and the plot movement. With no visible back story, we know soon enough that Nina is a head case. This is well represented throughout the movie by her relationship to her skin. Also, I appreciated the smooth ebb and flow of tension, with each wave building on the last. The exception to this for me was the gratuitous lesbian love scene. That theme could have been handled with much more class and subtlety.

Everyone in Black Swan is a nut job of some variety, and they are excellent nut jobs, at that. Just the kind you’d expect in any dance company, frankly. We have the frigid, obsessed Nina, her “sexual harassment lawsuit looking for a plaintiff” artistic director, Thomah (Vincent Cassel), and, the anti-Nina in the form of uninhibited party girl, Lily (Mila Kunis), who, in the real world, would be on the Lindsey Lohan fast-track to rehab. All beautifully written and played.

My favorite whack job, though, is stage mom Erica Sayers (Barbara Hershey). She’s driven and obsessed with her daughter, yet all the while she reminds little Nina that she ruined her mother’s life. Damn near drove me crazy just watching her. I could swear she walked right out of the local PTA meeting for parents of  “gifted and talented” children.

As a dancer, I thoroughly enjoyed the performances. The dancers all have excellent posture and beautiful hands, and they manage to avoid my two major pet peeves of ballet. Their spins are vertical with no Leaning Tower of Pisa Turns, and they do not subject the audience to any Great Divide Crotch Shots. That’s where the man lifts the lady to grace the audience with the vision of her tutu framing her hoo-hoo as she splays her legs. Indeed, I’m happy to say I never once got the same view of Natalie Portman’s crotch that Mila Kunis did during their lesbian scene.

One more thing. In spite of artistic director Skumbag being a skumbag, he is 100% correct in his instructions to Nina. There is an essence to Dance that transcends perfect steps. As I always told my students, Dance is the elimination of thought between the music and the motion. Discipline gives Dance its tools of expression.

Aside from being in a room with psychos for two hours, I thoroughly enjoyed Black Swan.

Holmes:

When I was five, my first crush was my teacher, Sister Miriam. I asked her to marry me. She explained that she was already married to Jesus. I pointed out that Jesus wasn’t here, and I was, but for some reason, she didn’t go for it.

A year later, I saw my first ballet, Swan Lake, performed by the New York City Ballet company, and I found true love. You have to understand that Swan Lake holds a special place in my heart, and I don’t like to see it messed with. It’s a ballet that, because it was the first one I saw live, has outshined every other ballet I’ve seen. So when I went to see Black Swan, it was like going to visit my pristine first love and finding a drunken convict on top of her.

I thought it was a very good movie, though, and I would have seen it even without the lesbian love scene. I found that scene both unnecessary and unnecessarily brief, not to mention unrealistically dry. They could have drawn out the action there without losing my interest. However, it was a fairly predictable and pedestrian trick, and it seemed like they worked pretty hard to fit it in. In fact, I think they just threw that in to get guys to go see the movie with their wives and girlfriends. It will probably work.

I’m being overly critical here, but in terms of psychosis and neuroses and such, it was a bit muddled. If Nina was that deep into her sickness, she wouldn’t have been able to hold it together to be the prima ballerina of the New York Ballet. They are on stage every moment of their lives and have to handle intense stress. If she was that crazy, she would have broken sooner.

The style of the movie was completely operatic, with many Hitchcockian devices which effectively enhance the story. I felt like I was watching an opera about ballet, as everything about the timing, the over-dramatization, and the acting seemed calculated to be visible to the people in the “back row.” There was no subtlety in the actors’ physical movements or in the story line. Anyone who likes opera, stage theatre, or zarzuela will like this movie.

Overall, I enjoyed Black Swan, but I could have used more Swan Lake and less queasy cam.

Holmes and I rate Black Swan at a .357, or, it’s worth the prime time price if you can stand the crowd. (Click here for our ammo rating system.) We certainly recommend this movie. The acting is excellent, the story line is engaging, and it uses old suspense movie devices to great effect in conveying the psycho nature of the drama. Not quite a life changer, but definitely interesting and unique enough to be entertaining.

All the best to all of you for a week without queasy cam.

Bayard, Holmes, Movie, No Popcorn: The Tourist

Holmes and I have always wanted to critique movies so we started with The Tourist. It’s an international crime thriller starring Angelina Jolie as Elise Clifton-Ward and Johnny Depp as Frank Tupelo. We don’t want to spoil it for you folks so we won’t tell you what it’s about. But that’s ok. As with many movie reviewers, the plot is irrelevant to our critique. So as an author/bellydancer and a man with experience in intelligence and covert operations, we’ll skip comments about acting quality, which was fine, by the way, and provide you with assessments from the perspective of our specialties.

Bayard

As a bellydancer, I loved Jolie’s wardrobe. All beautiful drapes calculated to emphasize her curves and her seductive walk that any dancer might admire. I must caution, though, that if she continues to slink about in high heels with that exaggerated wiggle, she will end up with a serious case of tendonitis in her psoas.

I also noticed that Jolie’s lip and eye makeup, while masterfully drawn, was so pronounced that there seemed to be three characters vying for center stage in all of her close-ups. Great for theater lights, but hardly what a classy woman would wear. Made me wonder if her lips and eyes are Union and had their own contracts.

My author side noticed that there is no clear-cut good guy in this movie. I spent the entire movie wondering who I should root for. The geeky stranger? The mysterious boyfriend? The cops? I finally decided my confusion was the movie’s goal because Elise was just as confused as I was. I wasn’t sure she was even on her own side, much less anyone else’s.

Since I write science fiction, though, I appreciated the fantasy quality of the magical Beretta that managed to pop off three shots at a time with an immobile slide and exactly no recoil. I hope Hollywood will start providing our law enforcement agencies with these.

As for Jonny Depp, his appearance was satisfactory, but he was the victim of indecisive characterization, made all the more extreme by his good job of acting. Ok. I guess I will give you a bit of a spoiler. Skip down to the Holmes section if you don’t want your movie-going experience ruined for you.

Did you skip down?

No, really, I mean it, Skip the next paragraph if you haven’t seen the movie. It will blow the whole thing for you.

Depp is supposed to be playing a master manipulator who even fools his lover, Elise, with his disguise as a geek. The problem is that he is entirely too much of a geek. I mean, if he’s really Pearce, the guy who pulls off this incredibly complex plan, why in the hell would he let himself be surprised by a bellhop and then trapped in a bathroom with bullets coming through the door? He wouldn’t. Pearce would know where all exits are at all times and how to use them. Sorry. The Tourist gets a fail on character consistency.

Pearce would never have been in this predicament under any name.

Ok. You can start reading again. You didn’t cheat, did you? No. I’m sure you wouldn’t do that. . . . Would you?

Holmes

Fortunately, this movie is unrealistic. Had it been realistic, it would have involved a great deal of tedium and boredom, which was what you were trying to escape when you went to the theatre. Don’t bother asking if this is how the criminals would do it or this is how the cops would do it. It isn’t. So just suspend reality for a couple of hours and have a little fun.

If you insist on worrying about it, here are some of the unrealistic aspects.

The big, European style black van with a camera on top that was following a few paces behind Elise? That’s how someone follows someone in Pink Panther movies or Mickey Mouse cartoons. It’s difficult to follow pedestrians in a vehicle without being noticed. You can use a vehicle as part of the mix, but to just drive along that way and stay with her was bizarrely cartoonish.

Also, a high-end, high-tech safe could not be installed in a remodeling project conducted on a Venetian mansion without the Italian treasury authorities and the European community authorities knowing about it. High-end safes are rare enough that they are easy for governments to keep track of, and governments do keep track of them. Authorities always want to know who the safes are attached to, what might be in them, and where the contents might come from.

As for the demolition job on the safe, it was one of the cheaper Hollywood safe jobs that I’ve ever seen. It would not have opened the safe, but it likely would have done a lot of damage to the room.

Here’s another unrealistic aspect that any middle school detective might spot. Since no one knows what’s going to happen, how do they know the snipers are what they need, and that all the bad guys are going to each conveniently be standing next to a window? Some bad guys sometimes spend part of their day not standing next to uncovered windows.

Us

Overall, Holmes and I give The Tourist a rating of .38 Special. That means we didn’t resent paying matinee price to see it. (See rating system below.) It had nice scenery, decent production quality, and good acting in spite of the character inconsistency for Tupelo and the confusion for Elise. We also agreed that it was reasonably entertaining.

If you’ve seen The Tourist, what did you think of it? What movies would you like reviewed by an author/bellydancer and a spook?

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.

All the best to all of you for not getting followed by a big, black van today.

Piper Bayard—The Pale Writer of the Apocalypse

Holmes—Student of sex, C4, and hollow points

Trailer for The Tourist