Friday, March 24, 2017

Billion Dollar Brain

Year 9, Day 83 - 3/24/17 - Movie #2,577

BEFORE: Well, the office move is over.  It was sheer hell, and I found myself at one point facing down a number of large, burly Russian movers who didn't want to work past 5 pm, and I had to convince them to not take 3/4 of our office furniture to Brooklyn and charge my boss 3 days of storage before they could deliver it all back to Manhattan on the following Monday - while simultaneously bribing the super of the new building to keep the freight elevator in operation for an extra two hours, so that the movers could finish loading everything in, once I convinced them to follow-through and complete the job.  Then I had to furiously get a few hundred boxes up onto shelves, so that there would be room to finish loading in all of the furniture.  I'm exhausted, sore and extremely upset, and convinced that I'm generally overworked, underpaid and severely under-appreciated.  And I couldn't get to sleep until about 5 am, due to a combination of excess adrenaline, caffeine and white-hot rage.  All of those chemicals and emotions had to wear off before I could keep my eyes closed.  So that happened.  Great for staying up to watch a movie, but terrible for my overall stress levels and mental health.

But some good news, I did get my watchlist back down to 133 films - I was very good over the past week and I only added one film for every two that I watched.  Maybe I should try to keep that going, and get it down to 130.  We'll see - there are a lot of films that I want to add right now.  Tonight Michael Caine carries over again, for the third of three spy films focusing on Agent Harry Palmer.

THE PLOT: A former British spy stumbles into a plot to overthrow Communism with the help of a supercomputer.  But who is working for whom?

AFTER: OK, so the 2nd film in this series was probably the best one, I'll allow no arguments on this point.  Because this one got extremely silly - it was directed by Ken Russell, famous for directing other abstract pieces like "Tommy" and "Altered States", and I'm not sure that his sensibility easily lent itself to the spy genre.

At this point in Harry Palmer's story arc, he's resigned from British Intelligence and has opened up his own private detective agency - but just when he thought he was out, they pulled him back in.  Why didn't they just hire him on a freelance basis?  Instead he catches his old spy boss breaking in to his P.I. office, and then later gets a phone call from a computerized voice that gives him a mission, telling him where to go to obtain a thermos that needs to be flown by hand to Helsinki.  But right off, it's a big NITPICK POINT - if he turned down the job offer from MI-5, why would he fly to Finland at the urging of a computer?  There were so many unanswered questions - who was calling, what was in the package, how much was he being paid? - that it would have been the simplest thing in the world to just not follow the computer's instructions.

But let's assume that he followed the instructions out of morbid curiosity, or the remainder of his sense of patriotic duty, or maybe he was still feeling the effects of that mind control seen in "The Ipcress File".  I didn't check - did the computer use his trigger code?  But the trip leads him to his old friend, Leo - it seems like Harry Palmer always has an old friend that turns up in once of these stories.  Leo's part of this weird paramilitary organization that's trying to take down Communist Russia, and to do this, the agents all take missions from a super-computer - the "billion dollar brain" of the title.

And let's talk about that computer for a second - which apparently can take all the current events of the world into consideration (if you put in enough punchcards) and then compute where exactly all of this organization's agents should be sent, and who they should kill there, in order to take down the Soviets.  But we used to have an expression, back in the early days of computer programming - it was "Garbage in, garbage out" or GIGO.  This means that any computer is only as good as the information that you put into it, and if the data is faulty, then anything the computer comes up with should be held suspect as well.  We see this when Leo's character is altering the data, in order to produce the results that he wants, rather than the correct projections based on the true events of the day.

So it's no big surprise when this Texas oil tycoon, General Midwinter, is seen to have a faulty plan for taking down Russia - first off, he wants to start some kind of rebellion in Latvia, and from everything I know about Latvia (one of my bosses is from there) that's just not going to work.  Latvia's independent now, but back then it was one of the Baltic states that was under Soviet control - they were a repressed republic, kind of like how Ukraine is now.  So I fail to see how a rebellion in a small Soviet-controlled state is going to take down the entire Russian government, unless this is some kind of variation on the "domino effect" from Southeast Asia.  Maybe as Latvia goes, so goes the whole U.S.S.R.?   That seems unlikely.

NITPICK POINT #2: I'm not even sure you can attack Latvia from Finland, there's a little problem in the way, and it's called Estonia.  Also, if you're going to attack with snowmobiles and tanker trucks, and go all "Ice Road Truckers" maybe it's not the best idea to do this right before the spring thaw.  But what do I know?

Also starring Karl Malden (last seen in "The Cincinnati Kid"), Ed Begley (last seen in "The Unsinkable Molly Brown"), Oskar Homolka (also carrying over from "Funeral in Berlin"), Guy Doleman (ditto), Francoise Dorléac, Vladek Sheybal (last seen in "From Russia With Love"), Milo Sperber (last seen in "The Spy Who Loved Me"), with cameos from Donald Sutherland (last seen in "The Trouble With Spies"), George Roubicek (also last seen in "The Spy Who Loved Me").

RATING: 3 out of 10 square dancers

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