Archive for the ‘Kitsch’ Category

Oh, boy. Here we ago again. The fourth reiteration of “Nikita”, a juvenile delinquent taken into the folds of a secret government agency and turned into a cold-blooded assassin extraordinaire! has premiered on television…again…

Of course, the 1990 original (and best) has already been covered, and I refuse, absolutely refuse, to discuss the 1993 American remake, or it’s bastard-step-sister, the 1997 television series. Because, really, they were poor and unsatisfying imitations of the French classic, so they do not bear mentioning let alone any sort of analysis. That being said, let’s just get on to the new girl in town.

So Nikita is back. She is Asian-American and embodied by the martial arts star Maggie Q. That alone is enough to spike my interest since I really liked her character in the severely underrated Mission Impossible 3. Unfortunately, it seems the show is heading in the direction of sexed-killer-fembottery and you need only to glance at the promotional poster to ascertain that. The plot, this time, picks up three years after Nikita leaves/escapes the agency and shows her as a woman returned, scorned, and hellbent on revenge.

In the film versions, Nikita leaves not only the¬† agency, but leaves behind her boyfriend as well because she sees herself as dangerous, damaged goods and beyond redemption. And I liked this ending because it doesn’t tie everything up with a pink bow, white wedding, and a house in the ‘burbs. Nikita is a messy character, she has enough control to take a life but no control when it comes to managing her own affairs. So, I rather dislike Nikita 4.0 because now the boyfriend has been killed by “Division” and Nikita wants to avenge not only his death but avenge her perceived ruin life, and save those in the evil agency’s evil clutches.

Now to me, this flattens Nikita, makes her boring and predictable. The whole “girl-meets-boy, boy-gets-killed, girl-gets-revenge” plot is tired and played out. Been there. Done That. Bought the T-Shirt. What made the original Nikita so interesting is that she really didn’t have a problem with the killing as much as she had problems between managing her day job and managing her cover. And that’s interesting. Why not run with that? Oh yeah, because that, too, has already been done…

Have Nikita return simply because she bored and she can. Or because she wants to take over. Or because she’s out of her ever-livin-gourd. The impetus of the dead boyfriend cheapens the original little sociopath we have come to love. That, and it rips off another girl-gone-rogue show, ALIAS, big time. And the bit about the planted proteg√©/mole? Really? I’m not hopeful of that plot element, I guess we’ll just have to see where it goes.

But I think this issue with Nikita and her new-found nobility is an extension of this blog’s last post. When it comes to the dames, popular culture portrays them as the Madonnas or the Whores with the heart of gold. Mass media, and maybe people in general, are not prepared to see women as unconscionable killers. Too bad, because if you want to do something fresh with this character, or the personality of an assassin, then you need to explore that dark side no matter how ugly or uncomfortable it may be.

Since the new 007 film, Quantum of Solace, opened during finals it took me sometime to properly recover to see the movie in my right mind. Having seen the latest installment, it’s time to re-visit an old topic: Bond Girls.

camilleOh, boy, oh, boy, oh, boy, where to begin? Let’s start with Camille, the supposed Bolivian beauty seeking revenge on the man who killed her parents. Do I really need to comment on the fact that a very obvious looking Eastern European actress with a visible Russian accent bleeding through her obviously tortured Bolivian accent was a little much at times? After 2006’s Casino Royale, I thought that Bond films had taken a turn and would at least attempt to flesh-out (pardon the pun) the female characters a bit more. But alas, tis not meant to be. Don’t get me wrong, I dig the idea of unrequited revenge as a theme, but without sufficient build-up of a back story, the character rings hollow.

sfThat’s Bond Babe #1, dare I venture an opinion on Bond Babe #2? “Strawberry Fields”? Consular agent? Are you kidding me? This saucy 1960’s throw-back of monikers is overdone and, frankly that character doesn’t even deserve a critique, so I’m moving on. Enough said.

imagesDame Judi Dench, however, ever deepens my undying loyalty in the role of ‘M’. love. her. I want this broad masterminding my intel agency once I become Dictator of my own nation (small country, manageable, an island preferably, benevolent of course).

The general movie revolves around Bond going rogue which is some fun stuff to gab about, but that discussion will unfortunately be left to another blog.

We only discuss the dames here.

So, this is GiRl SpY’s first departure from the dames. I hope you won’t mind if I expound on a topic that is most confounding. Trust me, I’ll return to the ladies tomorrow. And at risk of this sounding like a total cliche about women, which is something I strive hard to avoid here, I’m going for it…

As a student analyst, I am always surprised at how often I have to educate people about the Intelligence Community. Quite simply, people do not have the faintest clue how it all works. They think all IC employees are operatives running amok with guns and killing people.

The easiest way I have found to explain the IC community is by starting with the Intelligence Cycle. I know it’s not perfect, but it’s largely what we are taught to go by, so this is where I start. No matter how many times I have tried to explain this to a particular set of friends, I still receive nothing less than a look of utter incomprehension.

That is, until last weekend.

This couple I know were out of town for the finale of Project Runway (their favorite show) and invited me over for a Tivo’d marathon. I like the show, but I haven’t hooked up my TV in nearly a year, so I jumped at the chance for an evening of friends, food, wine, and a marathon session with fashion guru Tim Gunn.

During the show, it occurred to me: “You know this show is not unlike what we do at school.” From this starting point, I started to explain the intelligence cycle for the umpteenth time from the perspective of Project Runway, which as devoted fans, was something I thought they would understand.

Heidi Klum and gang are the Decision Makers and they have a problem: What to wear when you only have materials from an automobile to dress yourself. They take this problem to their analysts, or in this case, their designers, and they task them: Design an outfit using only materials from inside a car.

Having received their requirements, the designers/analysts plan their attack of the problem. In most cases, designers sketch a design which gives them a jumping off point. An analyst may do conceptual modeling or formulate an Intelligence Collection Plan. In this case, the designers pick a car that looks most promising and sift through the material and begin their collection process.

The designers now return to the workroom where they lay out their materials. An analyst may collect any and all data pertaining to specific topic, but they may not necessarily need all of it, like a designer may not need all the material they collected for their outfit. The analyst begins to process and exploit the data they have collected while the designers pick out the materials that will best suit the outfit they plan to construct.

Usually around this point in show, the designers have begun constructing their outfits. An analyst will begin analyzing the remaining data that has not been filtered out. This is when Tim Gunn reappears, visits each designer, provides his opinion on where they are going, and offers his unerring advice of to “make it work”. In an ideal world, the analyst would have a Tim Gunn-type person doing the same, but unfortunately, this is not always the case.

The designers are now pretty hell-bent on construction. The have a clock to beat and it’s all work-work-work until midnight. Analysts often have the same time constraints placed upon them and can operate under some enormous pressure. Unfortunately for all, time constraints do not necessarily lend to the best work, but then no one said life is fair. While designers are constructing, analysts are now taking their analyzed data and producing a final product for the Decision Makers.

The Runway Show! After a flurry of hair, make-up, and last minute fittings, the designers present their frocks on the runway to Heidi and gang. Analysts will produce a written report or presentation of some sort which is then passed on to their Decision Makers. Heidi and gang will view the frocks, haul the designers on stage for questions or clarifications, have a private chat, provide feedback, and then begin the process of elimination. For analysts, many times the final act is the act of dissemination, providing your final product to the Decision Maker.

For analysts these thing do not always follow as one would hope. You may or may not meet the decision maker, you may or may not be asked questions, you may or may not receive feedback. By the end of the day, however, if you’re country isn’t involved in an ill-advised war and you if don’t have a security agent standing over your desk watching you clear out your workspace, you may safely assume you’ve made it to the next challenge round.

And as crazy and ridiculous as all of this sounds, believe it or not, I finally received the feedback I’ve been waiting for. After presenting this comparative analysis to my friends they slowly nodded their heads with a theory affirming “Ah-haaaa……..”.

Before I lambast this movie into the great hereafter, this Agent must make a confession: she laughed her hiny off when first she saw it…at the dollar show. And in retrospect, I think I want my dollar back.

Sandra Bullock plays Gracie Hart, a foul and unkempt FBI agent amongst a group of Frat-Pack FBI dudes who regard her warily. What we get to witness is Gracie being turned into a Sexed-Up-Fembot. Not of the Killer variety, but a Fembot nonetheless.

The plot goes that there is a beauty pageant that is about to go kaboom, literally, and the FBI is on the case. Gracie goes undercover as a New Jersey beauty queen after monumental help from Michael Caine who teaches her to masticate her food with her mouth closed.

Frivolity and hilarity ensues as Gracie tries to ingratiate herself with the contestants (all of whom are suspect), learn their bizare tribal behavior (like swilling fat-free hot cocoa, waving, and fluttering her hands while faking tears), all while duking it out with her pageant handler, Caine, who declares her to be an unfinished woman.

Hmmmmm….so it’s not enough to be competent, smart, and have to put up with the thinly veiled misogyny on the job, but you also have to endure it while looking “hot” as well? Any Intell analysis aside, what the hell kind of message does this send to all the young girls who saw this flick?

Back to movie: Largely, Gracie gets by using her gut instinct. Basically what we call Abductive Logic. And not to diminish finely tuned instincts for a job, but we’re talking bomb threats here and mass murder on a public scale, you’d think they’d use more than just a gut feeling to solve the case. Yes, I know, this is Hollywood…

As you might have guessed, Gracie cracks the case, gets the guy, and finds a balance between between her kill-instinct and her feminine side. Sigh, how sweet. How sweet that the FBI is portrayed as bunch of bumbling idiots not totally up to the task of matching wits with a psychotic pageant mistress. But I’ll give kudos to the film for being equally insulting to both men and women. Points for parity!

Personally, if this is how the film industry insists on portraying women, then this Agent sides with the La Femme Nakita course of action. Nakita learns refinement, but only as a tool and nothing more. At heart, Nakita is a goofy, maladjusted, awkward girl, and her alias “Josephine” is the one with the mascara and the lipstick. “Josephine” is not the end-all-be-all of Nakita’s existence as an agent or a person.

Like Gracie, Nakita operates on almost pure instinct, but there’s training, skill, technique and method to back it up- not a frilly dress and and antiquated sense on how a woman should handle herself.

And to this Agent, that’s one finishing school I think all dames should attend.

Of all the Sexed-Up-Killer-Fembots out there, Aeon Flux has to be this agent’s favorite. Launched as a series of short animated films on the infamous MTV show “Liquid Television” in 1991, Aeon immediately garnered a twisted and cultish fan base (as twisted and cultish as the anime I suppose).

The run down on Aeon is as follows: She is an agent (assassin actually, but apparently that term is interchangeable to most) from the futuristic country of Monica. Aeon’s unstated mission is apparently to antagonize her former lover/evil leader Trevor Goodchild as best as one can tell. Aeon is silent, she is deadly, and more often than not is racking up a body-count the size of most college football teams.

Killer-fembottery aside, this Agent loved the series. Mostly because it was the best of silent films with only the occasional grunt and sound effect filling the silence. Also because the show was weird. And I do mean weird. Weird in a bat-poop insanity kind of way which made it innocuous and delightfully wicked at the same time. Deliciously improbable and terribly fun, I am sorry to say (actually I’m not, I enjoyed it anyway) there is zero intelligence analysis to be provided from this series.

However, like the channel itself, MTV managed to ruin the whole endeavor when it launched the show as its own series and started giving the character dialogue. That’s when this Agent left the building. MTV would have done better to just leave everyone mute. “The Hills” would benefit greatly from the same ideology. And oddly enough, as its own series, Aeon manages to kick the bucket at the end of every show. Now what the heck do you suppose MTV is trying to say about our Sister Assassin, eh?

Anyhoo-Aeon went by the wayside back in the late 1990’s only to be rebooted in movie form in 2005. “Aeon Flux”, starring Charlize Theron, embarked upon a similar mission in a really, really, really, really, one more for good measure, really, bad film. A film so bad, this Agent is beginning to wonder if she doesn’t actually kinda like it – something she can only admit to in the deep and dark recesses or her psyche.

Whatever, see it for yourself and be the judge. About the only comment to be made is that I really dug the futuristic “brush pass” Aeon performs in the film. Here’s the scene: Aeon is walking down the street, she encounters a random guy, momentarily plays tonsil-hockey with said guy, guy slips her a pill that is then swallowed, and then Aeon is psychically transported into a strange sort of meeting room with her handler.

Like I said, weird. However, if there must be a world where sexed-up-killer-fembots exist, then this is the horse this Agent is betting on.

After yesterday’s entry, this Agent is requiring a little levity. Levity in the form of a guilty pleasure. Oh, guilty pleasures, they’ll get you in trouble every time…

Mary Gross and Rebecca De Mornay star as Elli and Janis in the 1988, fluffball comedy “Feds” as two FBI trainees who couldn’t be more different, but team-up to get each other through their training.

Girl Power and Sisterhood aside, the movie does has something to offer (other than co-star and former presidential candidate Fred Thompson) and that is: the recruitment process.

Now clearly, this Agent is not suggesting that a movie of this nature is going to be terribly accurate, but again, there has to be some element of truth to the proceedings. De Mornay is former military, Gross is a brainiac. If you want Special Agent status in the FBI you have to be a little of both. Rigorous testing, interviewing, and security checks are performed on potential recruits before they are accepted. And the story doesn’t end there. Recruits are then put through 17 weeks of intense training at the FBI Quantico facility, where by, at the end, you must learn constitutional law, investigative procedure, how to defend yourself, and how not to get innocent people killed in the process, less you want to get the boot.

The thing to remember is the FBI is a law enforcement agency. Aside from requesting their applicants to have a big brain, the FBI also puts their trainees through physical training that some say is more stringent than the military. Throughout the film “Feds”, one sees the instruction of hand-to-hand combat, firearms, interviewing techniques, forensics training, lots of test taking, enduring male chauvinism, and all while reliving the wonderful existence of college dorm life. You see a smidgen of training in Silence of the Lambs, but this movie is certainly a lot more fun.

And let’s get back to that male chauvinism bit: while the feds have come a long way in employing women, it isn’t without the occasional set back. The FBI only just swore in its first women (Susan Lynn Roley and Joanne E Pierce) back in 1972. Since then there have been charges of harassment, protests over lack of promotion, and allegations of discrimination. And let’s not forget that nonsense about the Feds spying on the League of Women Voters back in 2006. Seriously, what the heck was that about?.

The point is, no matter how long it took the gents to get their act together and include the dames, the FBI is a government entity, it does take time to catch up, and it is not going to be without its unique set of problems: just like the rest of the world.

And one thing to admire about this silly bit of cinema is this: sisterhood. It’s a tough life out there for the skirts of this world and instead of tearing each other down, women really ought to be helping a fellow sister out.

So watch the movie, enjoy Elli and Janis ripping it up, and then throw your hat in the ring, ladies. Change won’t come if all the good broads watch from the sidelines.

“We can rebuild her. We have the technology.We can make her better than she was before: better, stronger, faster.”

And so begins the career of Jaime Sommers, The Bionic Woman (1976-1978). A tennis pro nearly killed in a skydiving accident, she is rebuilt and becomes an agent for the Office of Scientific Intelligence a fictional and secret branch of the CIA and working for the fantastically bureaucratic Oscar Goldman.

(As a matter of note: this Agent actually had a Bionic Woman Halloween costume one year. Complete with blue jumpsuit, face mask and elastic armband to expose the arm’s “circuitry”)

Hmmm, so what is there to say about this show? That it was as silly and ridiculous as the “Six Million Dollar Man”? At least it had good company.

Mostly it was about Jaime poking around in a situation (which I suppose the writers would have you believe is investigating), getting drugged/knocked unconscious, kidnapped, and then using her super strength to escape. Oh! And there was the pop-culture rise of Jaime’s nemesis: The FEMBOTS! Truly, one could watch the show for nothing else if only to see the Fembots.

This blog tries to find even the smallest morsel of actual intelligence work in every fictional spy character out there, but this show? This show bothers me on so many levels but mostly for the fact that there’s just nothing there. No logic, methodology, research, analysis, mental exertion…this Agent has put more effort into writing this lone post than the writers of that show did in making it, oh say, realistic

But nothing bothers me so much as to why The Bionic Woman was remade in 2007. Reasons I do not wish to venture a guess about. No new ground was covered. Ridiculous “covert ops” any sexed-up-killer-fembot could perform. Just more emotions and feelings about being “bionic” and “different”, sheesh…The Powers That Be over there at NBC really should have let that sleeping dog lie.