A Week In Film #268: Antacids & regret

[Taffin title screen]

Taffin
Film version of a pulpy paperback by Lyndon Mallet I remember from my father’s bookshelves, about a philosophical debt collector who becomes embroiled in foiling a dodgy development deal in picturesque County Wicklow.

Unlike the book, which has Mark Taffin as something of an ugly brute, here the protagonist is portrayed somewhat more prettily by Pierce Brosnan. Also filling up our screen are Patrick Bergin as his brother, Alison Doody (her from Last Crusade) as his free-spirited squeeze, and Ray McNally as his former mentor. Oh, and a pre-Father Ted team-up of Frank Kelly and Dermot Morgan!

Perfunctory direction by Francis Megahy (who did Sewers Of Gold plus a load of TV work but not much more of note than that) belies a decent story which would lend itself to a more faithful remake.

[Death Before Dishonor title screen]

Death Before Dishonor
One of those films I have been vaguely aware of for a long time – lurid airbrush art worked poster staring out of 1980s VHS club ads throughout the 1980s – but which I have only just actually seen. So thanks for that, Netflix.

As it turns out, it’s an astonishingly dull, unrelentingly gung ho actioner set in the Middle East against a backdrop of assassinations, embassy bombings and hostage takings.

In this world good, honest US Marines (represented here by stalwart Gunnery Sergeant Burns (Fred Dryer) and his elderly mentor Colonel Halloran (Brian Keith)) find their ham fists tied behind their backs by weak-kneed liberals like US Ambassador to the Arab state of Jemal (played by Paul Winfield – the seen-it-all-before cop from The Terminator). Confusingly it’s Winfield who says things like “we don’t negotiate with terrorists”, all whilst in the real world of this 1987 lemon Colonel Oliver North was putting together gun-running deals between drug-peddling Central American death squads, whacked-out jihadi guerrillas and the Iranian theocracy.

Meanwhile, we have a checklist of stupidity to work through: gobsmackingly offensive cultural portrayals
Despicable and duplicitous Palestinian fighters are played either by African Americans – as with Rockne Tarkington in the lead bad guy role, which the Washington Post noted at the time was “a black actor playing a racist’s perception of an Arab, an extraordinarily ugly irony in an ugly film” – or by Israeli actors. Jemal’s leaders are identikit Arab, complete with primary school nativity tea towel headdresses. There’s even a cackling German leftist terrorist woman (bizarrely named Maude Winter), all tight black jeans, pixie cut and sado-sexual lesbian overtones.

The only characters given any hint of depth are the weary-but-experienced Mossad agents who reveal themselves in the final reel – which also provides possibly the only truthful insight of the film; outperforming the meat-headed, lead-footed Yankees on the ground, they show themselves to have been following the machinations of the villains from the very beginning. But even though they are implied good guys, even the Mossad are a bit too swarthy for this film, and so relegated to providing generic support to the more fashionably caucasian Gunny (as are his African- and Italian-American underlings, obviously).

There’s absolutely nothing to recommend about this film.

[Mad Max Renegade title screen]

Mad Max Renegade
Short fan film located between the original movie and The Road Warrior, with former Main Force Patrol cop Max Rockatansky now gone rogue – along with his Pursuit Special. But when a report of highway banditry comes over the radio, he is forced to act…

Paul Miller’s short matches the first film’s style and tone effectively, but is nothing amazing. And Liam Fountain makes for a rather paunchy Max!

[Chicken Run title screen]

Chicken Run
Aardman’s poultry- based Great Escape pastiche. Fun moments, but dramatically weak.

A Week In Film #267: Chestnuts roasting

[Burn After Reading title screen]

Burn After Reading
A lesser, later Coen Bros flick, with Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Tilda Swinton and a notably angry John Malkovich joining the boys and Frances McDormand in a screwballish ersatz spy adventure. So-so, and with the best thing being the minor inserts featuring David Rasche and JK Simmons.

[Father Christmas title screen]

Father Christmas
I love Raymond Briggs’ books (mostly). Of the film adaptations, the only one I really like is When The Wind Blows. This one is a so-so screen version of a so-so pair of books. The kid loved it though.

A Week In Film #266: In the festive mood

[The Muppet Christmas Carol title screen]

The Muppet Christmas Carol
Michael Caine as Ebenezer – yay! But Jim Henson is dead by this point, so Steve Whitmire plays Kermit – not so yay!

Still, Brian Henson does a pretty decent job of keeping everything suitably chaotic whilst also heartwarming and broadly in line with the original source material.

[Inglourious Basterds title screen]

Inglourious Basterds
Tarantino does exploitation war movie revenge action – and confounds the expectations of exactly what that might mean by patching it together out of long, hyper-extended scenes that rumble on a whole lot slower than you’d imagine possible in a 21st century mainstream blockbuster.

Ultimately unsatisfying, but admirable for its refusal to paint-by-numbers. Some strong performances out of Mélanie Laurent and Christoph Waltz.

[War, Inc. title screen]

War, Inc.
The sort-of sequel to Grosse Point Blank, this time with John Cusack a jaded, burned out assassin-for-hire in a near-future, Idiocracy-style corporate-run dystopia, where Halliburton-type companies run privatised invasion/occupation shake-and-bake operations across the Middle East.

Seemed to have been panned when it came out, but for me its broadness was a big strength – this was not fine satire, but something closer in tone to American Dreamz. Cusack does weary and fucked up well; Marisa Tomei is decent as the journalist who acts as his foil; Hilary Duff as an over sexualised local pop star, Joan Cusack as a demented PA; and Dan Aykroyd as the boss. Really don’t see anything here that didn’t work for me, except maybe Ben Kingsley over hamming the pudding. A decent feature film calling card from documentarist Joshua Seftel.

A Week In Film #265: Mediocrity

[The Siege title screen]

The Siege
Mildly thought-provoking, pre-9/11 who-are-the-real-terrorists potboiler, with Denzel Washington the FBI investigator trying to track down the jihadi bombers holding Brooklyn to ransom. Bruce Willis is the military man warning of the whirlwind about to be reaped, Annette Bening the CIA spook, Tony Shalhoub the convenient Arab American sidekick.

Edward Zwick orchestrates it all with the subtlety of a man undertaking embroidery whilst wearing boxing gloves.

[Confidence title screen]

Confidence
Standard grifters-attempt-long-con tropes, with Edward Burns leading the team; Paul Giamatti, Brian Van Holt, Rachel Weisz and Franky G complete the crew. Dustin Hoffman plays a caricature crime boss. James Foley makes it all look fairly gritty, but it’s hardly breaking new or interesting ground, and it says very little about not very much.

A Week In Film #264: Don’t cross the streams

[False Trail title screen]

Jägarna 2 AKA False Trail
Rolf Lassgård – Kurt Wallander in the original Swedish adaptations – is a Stockholm cop dragged back to his redneck home town to investigate the disappearance of a young woman. A latter-day sequel, various plot points from the earlier film work well to provide a depth of back story that other similar films lack. An efficient procedural/thriller from Kjell Sundvall, and in Peter Stomare Lassgård has a strong foil to play against.

[The Aristocrats title screen]

The Aristocats
Rude joke gets reworked and dissected by an endless cast of comedians.

A Week In Film #263: And then some…

[Shakespeare In Love title screen]

Shakespeare In Love
It was on, I watched it. Moderately amusing, but I’m hardly a scholar, and I think I’ve had all my interest wring out of me on previous viewings.

[Gravity title screen]

Gravity
Alfonso Cuarón does Lost In Space literally, with Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. Some awesome visuals – and like with Children Of Men there are some amazing touches which seamlessly put the viewer right where the character is. And the 3D really worked well.

Nice to see a big film which puts a woman front and centre, without tits & arse, in what is a part that could easily have been given to a man.

For me, a success. (Apart from the twat that decided they needed to scrimmage past me to go to the toilet 15 minutes before the end.)

[The Innocent Sleep title screen]

The Innocent Sleep
This is a film I’ve been after for ages, having heard it touched on the death of Roberto Calvi. It was the first film I ever added to my IMDb MyMovies Must See list. So, thanks Mother.

Let’s not get carried away – this is not an exceptionally good film. However, it is an admirably competent, noirish modern thriller from writer Ray Villis and director Scott Michell, neither of whom seem to have done much before or since.

Plotwise we have a homeless Scouse (Weston’s own Rupert Graves) witnessing A Very Bad Thing whilst sleeping rough in London. Local journo Annabel Sciorra and wise old alkie Graham Crowden try to help. John Hannah lends a bit of support, Michael Gambon is scary.

Some good location work, good lighting, good stunts – and a pretty good premise. Definitely would have benefited from some more attention to the detail of the script, and Graves cannot do a Liverpudlian accent.

[National Security title screen]

National Security
Seriously mediocre action comedy in the vein of mismatched cop duos like Lethal Weapon or Bad Boys – this time with sacked patrolman Steve Zahn forced to buddy up with the police academy reject Martin Lawrence, who just happens to be the man who lost him his job! Uh, yes. Oh, and there’s a gaming of bad people who did some bad stuff, and our bickering heroes zzzzz….

Seriously, not even I can say that this is anything worth your time. I got into an argument with the LLF, because she said it was a *** film and I maintain it’s only a **.

Mark Kennedy, Stratfor & Densus Group – how the cop-spy turned private sector spook tried to beg himself a job

Mark Kennedy AKA Mark Stone

It’s been a while since last I blogged on this, but now is as good a time as any to return, seeing as someone (Jason Kirkpatrick, who currently is crowdfunding for the Spied Upon documentary on this very subject) brought to my attention a rather intriguing email.

It purports to be from unmasked cop-spy Mark Kennedy, AKA Mark Stone:

Ryan Sims
Global Intelligence
STRATFOR
T: 512-744-4087 | F: 512-744-0570
221 W. 6th Street, Suite 400
Austin, TX 78701
http://www.STRATFOR.com
Begin forwarded message:

From: stanage.consulting@yahoo.com
Date: December 12, 2011 10:56:16 AM CST
To: service@stratfor.com
Subject: [Custom Intelligence Services] Domestic extremism
Mark Kennedy sent a message using the contact form at

https://www.stratfor.com/contact.

Dear Sir, STRATFOR has in the past been a reliable research resource for me in my role as a covert officer for British Special Branch. Now that that role has finished I am looking to channel my expertise regarding domestic extremism and political activism from across Europe and the USA. I have expert knowledge in the use of social media for the purposes of intelligence gathering and have an in depth understanding of the trends and influences of activism on a domestic and international level having infiltrated many groups throughout eight years of international deployment. With your experience in the field of Strategic Forecasting are you able to advise as to how my skills and expertise may now be applied and whether your summer analysts course might be something I should consider?
Kind Regards
Mark Kennedy UK +44 7411-286652 US 216-526-1774

The message was sent to Stratfor, the now notorious American ‘global intelligence’ company five million of whose emails were obtained by Anonymous in 2011 and which have subsequently have been released through Wikileaks.

This particular email, from December 2011, seems only to have been released a fortnight ago.

Note how he skims over the details of why his “[covert officer] role has finished”. (Note also how he describes himself as having worked for “British Special Branch” when in fact he was employed by the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU), which is separate from SB.)

In October 2009 Mark Kennedy was pulled out of his undercover deployment by his bosses. In December he attended an HR meeting where he was (apparently) told he was “only qualified to drive a panda car”.

In January 2010, three things of note happened:

Exactly what order these three things happened in is not clear, especially as the source for some of it is Kennedy himself – notably from his January 2011 interview with the Mail On Sunday. By the March 2011 Simon Hattenstone interview in the Guardian, he was denying some of the things he previously claimed – though it seems irrefutable that he was working for Global Open after he left the Met. (ETA: As Merrick has noted in the comments below, by his February 2013 appearance in front of Keith Vaz’s Home Affairs Committee, Kennedy was once again acknowledging that he had worked for Global Open.)

In February 2010 Kennedy set up his own company, Tokra Limited. This company was dissolved in August 2010. As the Guardian has noted, it was linked to Global Open via solicitor, Heather Millgate.

In March 2010 Kennedy set up a second company, Black Star High Access Limited. This remains extant.

In November 2011, Kennedy set up a third company, Stanage Consulting Limited. This was only dissolved this summer (2013). It was from an email account (stanage.consulting@yahoo.com) ostensibly connected to this company that Kennedy approached Stratfor in December 2011.

Interestingly, Kennedy conflates much of the above into a single entry on his CV to cover the years since leaving (or preparing to leave) the police:

Director

Stanage Consulting Limited

January 2010 – Present (3 years 11 months)Facilities security consultant. Assessing and managing risks amd threats to facilities, Designing and providing bespoke preventative protocols and proactive measures to mitigate future incidents and training security staff to meet the companies expectations. Current portfolio includes industrial, commercial and leisure facilities in the US and the UK.

By February/March 2012, Kennedy had apparently started work for an American security/intelligence outfit called Densus Group.

Consultant

Densus Group

March 2012 – Present (1 year 9 months)

Consultant for the Densus Group.The Densus Group provides a range of specialty consultancy and training, primarily on behalf of government institutions and private firms in respect of risk analysis and threat assessment from protest groups and domestic extremism.

As one might expect from anyone’s LinkedIn profile, let alone that of a proven dissembler such as Kennedy, his is full of bluster, hyperbole and provable nonsense:

Summary

Provides expert knowledge and skills in the fields of intelligence gathering, investigation, support for litigation and facility threat assessments and the implementation of proactive security protocols.

Facilities security consultant. Assessing and managing the risks and threats to facilities, Designing and providing bespoke, preventative protocols and proactive measures to mitigate ongoing and future incidents.
My current portfolio includes industrial, commercial and leisure facilities in the US and the UK.

I have many years experience in covert operations and deployments, intelligence gathering, analysis and dissemination, statement taking, investigations and case preparation, evidential court apperances, surveillance and counter-surveillance skills and the use of technical covert, recording equipment.

I have lectured for law enforcement agencies and services regarding infiltration tactics and covert deployments and have lectured for the private sector regarding risk management, the threat from extremist and protest groups and creating preventative protocols.

My exeperience is drawn from over 20 years as a British Police officer, the last ten of which were spent deployed as a covert operative working within extreme left political and animal rights groups throughout the UK, Europe and the US providing exacting intelligence upon which risk and threat assessment analysis could be made.

That knowledge and experience is now drawn upon to provide expert consultation to the public / private sectors to provide investigative services, deliver informative lectures and training, provide risk and threat assessments to companies, corporations and their staff.

We further offer the discreet service of missing persons investigations on behalf of private, corporate and government clients.

Yet still there was something about him that tickled those boys in Stratfor.

Sean Noonan, STRATFOR

Here’s tactical analyst Sean Noonan flagging up an article in the Guardian about Mark Kennedy’s work:

Very impressive undercover work… He sure looks like a dirty hippy.

Marko Papic, STRATFOR

Here’s a response from fellow Stratfor analyst Marko Papic:

This part is most interesting to me:

The documents state that planning meetings for the protest took place at Kennedy’s house and he paid the court fees of another activist arising from a separate demonstration. “It is assumed that the finance for the accommodation, the hire of vehicles and the paying of fines came from police funds,” they state.

So the police funds were used to prepare the sabotage? That is awesomely insidious.

And those admiring emails at Stratfor? They were exchanged in October January 2011. That’s two eleven months prior to Kennedy’s begging letter.

As Eveline Lubbers, author of Secret Manoeuvres In The Dark – an examination of how state and private sector spy on political activists – notes: