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January 10, 2009 - January 3, 2009

Friday, January 09, 2009

Agent 009

(From a painting by Beckoning Chasm.)

A NEW STORY LINE. Some productions are classics even before they're made. That's certainly the case with the exciting new series of big budget spectaculars headed our way featuring the exploits of Agent 009. It's unlikely that anyone has ever seen his like, or at least not, like, recently. America is ready for a real two-knuckled hero who can sweet-talk the villains as deftly as he does all the women, male and female, in the audience. As always, he's assisted by his hard-ass boss, "M," and the indefatigable "Q," who's always on hand to give Double-Oh Nine every gimmick and artifice he needs to succeed in his delicate assignments.

Co-starring Halle Berry as "M" and The New York Times as "Q."

We're trying hard to avoid spoilers in this preview, but we may slip occasionally, so be careful. At any rate, here's a sample of the box-office blockbusters we have to look forward to:

Goldbricker. Agent 009 confronts the indescribably devious Blago Goldbricker, who threatens to bring down an entire presidential administration before it even takes office.

Starring Lyle Lovett as the evil governor of a fictional midwestern state.

You'll thrill to the swashbuckling diplomacy that keeps all the dirty details out of the papers while Agent 009 romances every important decision maker in the Justice Department and the congress. By the time the curtain comes down, Blago will be nothing but a grease stain on the last page of the daily fishwrap. *** (The sexy dialogue in the governor's mansion is worth the price of admission by itself.)

Quantum of Dumbass. There are few more terrifying harbingers of disaster than stupid people in high places who think they are smart. In this outing, Agent 009 must figure out some way to neutralize an idiot vice president of the United States who simply cannot keep his mouth shut or his desire for attention unchecked.

Co-starring Christopher Lloyd as the VP of very little brain.

Believe us, it's going to take all of 009's wiles and mild mutterings to turn back this threat to the entirety of western civilization. ** (one of the weaker entries in the franchise, primarily because there's no sex to speak of, and all the witty dialogue only goes one way, if you know what we mean.)

Octopelosi. There's scary and then there's downright terrifying. What do you do if you're faced with an arch-villain who has all the emotional maturity of the Runaway Bride?

Co-starring Susan Lucci as the ageless octogenarian Speaker of the House.

Well, if you're Agent 009, you've got a lot of ego-massaging to do, and that's where the intense drama and riveting action of this monster hit comes into play. One of the very best in the franchise. **** (You'll understand why when you realize where it is exactly that Octopelosi keeps her ego. The massaging gets hot hot hot.)

Live and Let Lie. When you're a perfect hero yourself, the hardest thing to deal with is people on your own side who don't always tell the truth the way you make a point of doing. That's the heartbreaking angst of this particular production, which sometimes sacrifices the pure action we're used to with 009 for the somber depths of almost John Le Carre-like ambiguity.

Starring Jabba the Hut as the corrupt congressman from Massachusetts,
Ted Baxter as the corrupt Senator from Connecticut, Robert Downey, Jr.,
as the corrupt former CEO of Fanny Mae, and Adam Clayton Powell , Jr.,
as the corrupt, very nearly almost purely white congressman from Harlem.

It's embarrassing is what it is. Which doesn't always make for good drama. You're talking hope and change, and they're slobbering at the trough, sucking up campaign donations in return for creating the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depresssion. And then they're very loud and unashamed about blaming the mess on everyone else, expecting YOU to clean up after them without mentioning the fact that they're scummier than the algae at the bottom of the fish pond. In a really good action movie, you could gun them all down with your silenced beretta. But this isn't a really good action movie. Unfortunately. Agent 009 does what he has to do -- get out the mop and work quietly at night to scrub away the stains. ** (We'd say miss this one, but the performances by the Juniors, Downey and Powell, are still worth a look.)

Thunderthighs. Once upon a time there was a super-villain named Ernst Stavro Blofeld. He was a wuss compared to Thunderthighs. Because you can kill her dead in the primaries, and then there she is again, shining like a new dime at the very top of your cabinet. Secretary of State. While it's clear that her husband has even more sinister foreign connections than Blofeld. But what can you do? You made some kind of a deal, and now you have Thunderthighs and Blofeld attached to your administration.

No one woman can play the senator from New York. This time,
 it takes Louise Fletcher and
Rebecca Romijn to do justice to
her mean power hunger and her, uh, er, mean power hunger.

Cinematically, there's no question that this is one of the great ones of all time. Pay the price of admission and see how Agent 009 goes about the daunting task of preventing the deadly duo from usurping his power, his prerogatives, and his policies. HINT: "Q" is going to have to do much much better than usual to make this one work out to a happy ending. Even "M" is put to the test.

Can "M" prevail against  the shapeshifting nurse from NY?
All in all, it's a must see. ***** (Sometimes, the shapeshifting can actually make you attracted to Thunderthighs for a moment or two. Be warned.)
Casino Federale. There are few times in 009's career when he's up against taller odds than he is when he takes on the greedy little rats of Wall Street.

The evil Wall Street CEOs are played by temporarily cash-strapped investment
bankers,  and
the otherwise excellent cast features fine performances by Carlos
Mencia, Samuel Jackson,
and Edward James Olmos as the brilliant economic
experts who help 009 redistribute the wealth to the proletariat, er, working folk.

At first it looks like a bailout of banks and brokerage houses, but wait for the big switcheroo, when the guilty are punished, their assets seized, and their wives and children sentenced to indentured servitude for, well, ever. HINT: Reparations are involved, and "M" has some of her most stirring scenes in the series. *** (It's a shame Moneypenny had to be sold into white slavery in Zimbabwe after all her loyalty to 009, but she was always way too cozy with the capitalist rodents of New York.)

The Spy Who Served Me. Agent 009 is no Jack Bauer. He may throw people under the bus occasionally (or a lot, actually), but he never yanks out the cords of electric lamps to attach them to the genitals of suspected terrorists, who are as human as you and I are. He knows it's much much better to look good, wear excellent suits, and speak quite well, with devastating throwaway lines. He's a man of the world, not just a a thug with a cellphone and a gun. That's why when you're looking for a new intelligence chief, it makes sense to hire a stone bureaucrat who has a lifetime of experience in ascertaining that the truth is what we say it is in our press releases and other official pronouncements.

Co-starring Eugene Levy as the incoming CIA chief
who is shocked, shocked
to discover that the United
States Government is engaged in ongoing espionage.

But only an agent of 009's caliber can stand up to the corrupt hordes who think spying is best done by professional spies instead of glib dilettantes. Only the most urbane and sophisticated of glib dilettantes can win the day in a crisis like this one, and you may be disappointed that he does it without firing a shot, but you still have to admire the fact that nobody does it better. *** (The three stars are there on account of the new Hollywood rating standard, which holds that there are some movies you really ought to see, whether you find them entertaining or not, because actors have gotten so damn smart about political science.)

Buy Another Day. You know the score. "M" calls 009 to headquarters and tells him that the fate of the western world is suddenly in grave peril. Unless he acts fast, the whole thing could go sideways in a hurry. That's the plot of Buy Another Day. It seems there's a certain dictator in Iran who wants nuclear weapons and keeps threatening to wipe Israel off the face of the map. What to do?

Co-starring Gmork and the lissome Chief of Staff Atreyu.

Well, the action in this one is darned exciting. Obviously what's required is a lot of well-intentioned talking with the grossly misunderstood perpetrator of all the threats. First step: Arrange the pre-conditions you said weren't needed in the first place for talks that just might save the peace. Is it possible that the hardened heart of the bellicose one might be softened by a secret rendezvous with a slim and handsome former ballet dancer who knows a thing or two himself about threats and dark ambitions? You bet it is. If there's one thing you can count on in this world, it's that the most macho among us are the hungriest for a little male bonding and, er, male beauty. **** (Honestly, we wouldn't have added the fourth star, except for the popularity of movies like Milk (scroll) and Bareback Mountain. But we're trying to keep up with trends.)

License to Drill. Perhaps the saddest phenomenon in the western world is the selfish desire by so many of the bourgeoisie for a maintenance of their current standard of living. Thankfully, there are a few amazing heroes who know that the right thing to do is jet all over the country lecturing everyone about the sacrifices ordinary people should make so that the politically privileged can keep their lifestyles intact. This isn't a fight Agent 009 sought out himself, but it was wished upon him and he has to respond from a sense of altruistic duty.

Co-starring the Captain from WALL-E as the plutocrat ex-VP who falls in love with
the color green and Richard Dreyfuss and Josh Brolin as the oil-whore gas-guzzlers
who want to destroy the earth and everyone on it just because they want more gas.

Actually, this plot is as dull as it sounds. The redeeming feature is the oil industry lobbyist Agent 009 has to resist in order to do the right thing for global warming and all that other crap. She's the single hottest cartoon character ever drawn, and if you weren't 009, you'd probably dismiss all the other cartoon characters who are pretending there's some kind of climate crisis. But you're not Agent 009. Are you?

Jessica Rabbit. Played by the Jessica Rabbit.
As realistically as Al Gore plays doomsayer.

Unless you like your sex consummated, this is another must-see. ***** (Don't be too hard on 009 for not being seduced. For all we know, he doesn't like cartoons, even the ones with sensational legs and giant boobs. For all we know.)

From Russia with Nerve. Then there's this old-fashioned villain. From Russia. It reminds you of SMERSH and that other double-oh agent somehow, doesn't it? Except there's no more Soviet Union, and so we all know that the right response is, once again, to talk with the man, which Agent 009 is more than willing to do.

Co-starring Gollum as the sick-in-the-head
obsessive pining for his lost ring of power.

Once again, don't expect too much in the way of action. What's needed here is smooth talking by the truckload, and Agent 009 wades into the challenge with a lot of understanding, friendliness, and awareness of past American sins against the rights of the Russian people. Anyone could see that's all a Russian dictator needs to start being nicer and less suspicious and paranoid. No problemo. ** (We'd give it more stars -- consistent with "Buy Another Day" above -- but frankly, the male skin this time is actually sort of sickening, even for us closet heterosexuals. Fabio he ain't)

A View to a Jew. Anymore, the world is too much shades of gray. That's why this is such a stunningly spectacular and entertaining ride. For once we have a total villain -- the supernally evil prime minister of Israel -- and the overmatched forces who are trying to prevent him from committing the greatest wartime atrocities in history.

Co-Starrinng Benjamin Netanyahu as "Darth Zion," Omar Sharif as the
peaceful and lovable leader of Hamas, as well as Dennis Rodman as the
upright reverend Wright, Denzel Washington as the well-dressed leader
of the Nation of Islam, and Yoda as the eternally fair Jesse Jackson, Jr.

The mission does truly seem impossible: How to defeat the Jewish conspiracy to bathe in the blood of Arab babies during their nastily ancient ceremonies of missile-driven sacrifice. But thanks to the help provided by the Elders recruited by 009, catastrophe may ultimately be averted. **** (Yeah, we know. It sounds like a total yawn. Old guys from the middle east. What nobody counted on, not even Agent 009, was the real arch villain, one Ziva from the Mossad. For once, it's possible that the forces of truth and justice might lose. Cool.)

Ziva David. She kicks everybody's ass.

In His Majesty's Secret Service. Not every episode is, you know, great. Somebody had to rape and kill Ziva to death. Because the forces of truth and justice can't, you know, lose indefinitely. That's why people need people like Che Guevara.

As played by the American preppie Benicio del Toro.
But he's so soulful. You could believe he almost cares.

Yes, finally, there's some action. If you like that kind of action. ***** (We didn't want to give it this many stars. But the polls, you know. Right-thinking people are pretty fucking sick of Jews at this point. You know.)

You Only Fib Twice. This one isn't so much an action movie as an elegiac celebration. Thank God we finally have an agent on our side who cares about us. Still, we couldn't help remembering the original haiku behind this title in the Bond series. Screw it.

You only lie twice: Once when you're sworn
in and once when you kick voters in the face

Are you satisfied, Beckoning Chasm?

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Treading Water

(From a painting by Kevin Finney)

THE BIG STORY. When you go scavenging for news and commentary worth thinking about, it's not really there at the moment. In a great fit of brainlessness, we elected a president the way TV viewers elect American Idol, with pretty much the same result. The show is over, and everyone is dully channel-surfing, looking for something, anything, else that might be on. Nobody is capable of sharp focus on anything for more than a few minutes, not even the mass media. Nobody knows what the new plot is supposed to be, or more precisely the exact premise of the new reality show that's about to get underway. We don't even know who's hosting it.

The post-election Obama seems a mere shadow of the presence he was under the klieg lights. Now he seems withdrawn, leaden, almost inert, like a show prop being stored in a closet.

And the country is no different. Look at Drudge over the past few weeks. The headlines seem random, ominous indeed but barely linked to anything that could be called a real news story. Almost all of it reeks more of rumor than reporting. A war nobody wants to think about in Israel. More global warming hoaxery. (Really. If the economy is dissolving, who cares about sea levels a hundred years from now?) Pissing contests between Reid and McConnell. Back and forth on all sides about whatever the hell is going on under the surface in Illinois politics without Fact One being released to the public. There's a largely unreported story about how every new vote discovered in the Minnesota recount wound up in Al Franken's column. There's another one about the big financial bailout that seems to have gone nowhere and done nothing while congress is concerned with what? Whether or not to seat the only black man who might be legally entitled to become a U.S. Senator.

Meanwhile, every other industry in the nation seems to have its hand out. Suddenly no business enterprise can hope to succeed unless it secures a place on the giant new government tit that's been pulled out of the federal corset. Newspapers that should be battling for readership tooth and claw in the rich new field of political skulduggery that attends every change of government can't muster energy for anything but their own gloomy earnings reports. Who do media stars like Harry Smith and Matt Lauer choose to call on the carpet with their scathing reportorial weapons? Ann Coulter. Ann Coulter?

It's no better on the right. HotAir's resident atheist Allahpundit is promulgating a phony religious controversy, Neal Boortz is worried about the bad example Obama's cigarette smoking sets for American kids, Rush Limbaugh is more or less throwing up his hands in disbelief for three hours a day, and even National Review's The Corner seems sunk in high-toned lethargy.

It's all just killing time. Treading water. Waiting for the next shoe to drop. A shoe that belongs to Barack Obama, whoever he is, now that he has officially reneged on every single promise and policy position he speechified about so eloquently on the campaign trail. Can he fill the big shoes that people expect to be striding across the Oval Office carpet? He better be. So far he hasn't even roused himself enough to sound hopeful about the state of the economy or the prospects for its recovery. Instead, he murmurs bleakly about trillion dollar deficits for years.

I've got news for him. Americans expect their president to be hopeful and confident. Especially now, when we're all treading water and the news business has apparently gone out of business, just like the banks, the car companies, the Republican Party, and the U.S. Congress.

When you tread water long enough, fatigue begins to steal over you. As you lose energy, you begin to lose hope. At some point you surrender and drown.

Our stalled celebrity show needs a new premise and fast. Can somebody place a call to Simon Cowell?

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