Derailed (2002)

Country: Aruba / United States
Director: Bob Misiorowski
Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Tomas, Arana, Laura Harring, Susan Gibney, Lucy Jenner, Jessica Bowman, Kristopher Van Varenberg, John Bishop, Dayton Callie, Jimmy Jean-Louis
Editor: Marc Jakubowicz, Fernando Villena
Writers: Boaz Davidson, Jace Anderson, Adam Gierasch
Cinematographer: Ross W. Clarkson
Music: Serge Corbet
Producers: Kathy Brayton, Boaz Davidson, Danny Dimbort, Avi Lerner, Danny Lerner, Scott Putman, Trevor Short, David Varod
AKA: Terror Train

With the exception of JCVD, when did Jean-Claude Van Damme’s film career turn to shit? Okay Van Damme may have never been a true A-lister, but for a while he was putting out some decent product. I think Hard Target was the beginning of the rot. Hard Target was heavily promoted due to John Woo’s involvement, but the end result was – well, I thought it was an inferior remake of Avenging Force starring Michael Dudikoff. I realise Dudikoff appeared to be on an up at that stage of his career, due to the success of the first two American Ninja movies, but come on, when looking for A-list material, you shouldn’t troll through Dudikoff’s garbage bin. Maybe they are both variations on The Most Dangerous Game – but even then they are litigiously similar, right down to the New Orleans setting.

I am sure Hard Target made money (and I know it has its fans too), but it signified the last true attempt for Van Damme to inherit the Schwarzenegger tough-guy crown. Van Damme’s films dropped in quality thereafter and new contenders arrived on the action scene. I have no idea how many movies he has made in the last fifteen years. They all go direct to DVD and their cover art all looks the same. But at least Van Damme’s career hasn’t nosedived to the stupifying levels of Steven Seagal’s.

Derailed was released in 2002, but the previous year, Van Damme made The Order, and to be brutally honest it is trash. But it’s watchable trash, with a few redeeming features, like the amazing location footage in Jerusalem, and of course, some of the fight scenes. There was enough things going ‘right’ in The Order to suggest that Van Damme was dragging his career back on track. Where it goes wrong, is the crude attempts to inject some comedy into the proceedings. There Van Damme comes off as a poor-man’s Jackie Chan. This is further enforced by the Jackie-esque blooper reel at the end of the movie. Both Van Damme and Chan have their respective styles, and I don’t believe that Van Damme has to borrow Jackie’s. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with trying something new, but this so clearly crosses into Chan territory that it is embarrassing. But none-the-less, I enjoyed The Order.

That brings us to Derailed, and I was really wishing and hoping this film would prove that Van Damme was back. But as the saying goes, ‘if wishes were horses, then beggars would ride‘. But hopefully not ride on trains, because, to put it bluntly, Derailed in one of the worst fucking films ever made.

Outside of a military compound in Slovakia, a car breaks down. The driver, Galina Konstantin (Laura Harring) gets out and pops the bonnet. One of the guards on duty, walks over to offer assistance. For his trouble, she clobbers him, rendering him unconscious.

Then she breaks into the compound, scaling the wall with climbing equipment. Along the way, she beats up a few more guards. Then she gets to the safe, which she breaks in to using a laser. She steals a biological Maguffin – in fact a mutated strain of smallpox called SP43.

Meanwhile, in Vienna, Austria, Jacques Kristoff (Jean-Claude Van Damme) is holidaying with his family, who he doesn’t get to see too often, due to his work. Well, he should be holidaying with his family – instead he meets his boss at a restaurant. It seems that Kristoff in some kind of secret agent, and a mission has come up that requires his desperate attention.

Kristoff is reluctant to take the assignment, but has little choice. Naturally enough, his family (wife and two kids – his son played by his real-life son) are extremely disappointed. More so, as they do not know he is a secret agent – believing he is a simple business man.

Kristoff’s mission is to meet Galina, who is selling the biological agent, in Bratislava, and escort her to Munich. As the airports are being watched, they have to make the journey by train.

Kristoff goes to the pre-arranged meeting place, which is a theatre and meets Galina. But before the introductions are over, the theatre is raided by a squad of armed troops. Kristoff and Galina flee – in a scene which is supposed to be balletic and cutting edge all at the same time. It doesn’t work. Instead, it comes off as poorly choreographed and confusing.

It must be equally confusing for the troops, as Kristoff and Galina manage to escape the building, fleeing onto the streets. As they steal a taxi, a noisy car chase ensues – ending with the destruction and explosion of a petrol station.

Our heroic duo make it to the train station in time, and board the train to Munich. In no time, they are across the border. The mission should be easy from there on out. You’d think!

Matters get worse, when Kristoff’s family turn up on the train to surprise him. He is caught with Galina, and they believe he is having an affair. However, before he patch things up, the train is hi-jacked by an old acquaintance of Galina’s, Mason Cole (Tomas Arana) – and his band of henchmen – who seem like rejects from Die Hard 2. Cole wants the smallpox virus – and he gets it – in the process, one of the tubes is smashed, and the virus is released on the train – turning the story into a second rate Cassandra Crossing.

There are so many plot holes in this film, that picking on them would just appear mean-spirited, but needless to say, I think this is the worst JCVD film I have ever seen. Not only is it poorly written, but it is poorly filmed and edited. The fights scenes are shot so tightly, and then cut so badly – any style, finesse and skill that Van Damme possesses as a martial artist is completely negated.

No, sorry, I am going to be mean spirited. Look, I love trash films, and more than most people, I am willing to suspend my disbelief and embrace the ridiculous and the poorly plotted. In fact, that’s my bread and butter. I live for ridiculous and the poorly plotted. But to that end, I expect the ridiculous and the poorly plotted when magical occurrences happen in movies. But in this film – after Kristoff’s son is killed off – when he magically turns up alive on the train, I demand an explanation. The film gives us nothing. At least the film-makers could have suggested he was hiding on the roof, or under a chair, or even have fucking aliens sweep down from the heavens and teleport him aboard their ship just prior to the explosion. Then beam him back on board. Okay, that’s a crap idea! But at least it’s a reason for the revival and/or survival of Kristoff’s son. The film, as it stands, gives the viewer nothing. And that really pisses me off. It’s almost insulting.

As you have guessed, I didn’t like this one. I think I now have to watch a Michael Dudikoff movie as an antidote – to once again restore my faith in B-grade action cinema.

Derailed (2002)

Tobruk Target


Author: W.H. Williams
Publisher: Horwitz
Published:1959
Pictured: 1963 Paperback edition
Book No: 3

Here’s another old Australian war story, published by Horwitz. I don’t have time to read this at the moment, but I thought I would share a little bit about the book.

From the back:

The tiny desert patrol clawed across the burning desert, every man in the unit raw, tough, concentrated on the job.

Their target was Tobruk, with orders to snatch crack German Colonel Klaus Speidel from under the garrison commander’s eyes… but before that came the long battle in the scorching sands, a hard, blood soaked struggle for the TOBRUK TARGET.

About the author:

W.H. Williams is no distant armchair narrator of the Middle East campaign. He went to Tobruk in 1940 with the 7th Australian Division as a private, later reaching the rank of captain. During his 5.5 years service he gained a deep understanding of the men who fought, died, and won, and before leaving the Middle East, was seconded to the Army Military history section to compile and record details of the Libyan wartime scene.

Tobruk Target

Harry Palmer Files – 006 – The David Bailey Michael Caine portrait

Every Sunday, we’ll be looking at the Harry Palmer series of novels (in which the character doesn’t actually have a name), their author — Len Deighton, the films based on them, the star of those films — Michael Caine, and the television movies that followed, and giving my thoughts on all I encounter. I’ll inevitably be drawing heavily on the collection of Kees Stam, author of The Harry Palmer Movie Site, and Rob Mallows, creator of the Deighton Dossier, and other odds and ends that I’ve turned up over the years.

In the banner above…you know, the one that’s been on top of every HPF post so far…you may have noticed what is perhaps the coolest photograph ever taken. It’s a portrait of Caine taken by photographer David Bailey (inspiration for a movie that’s the epitome of 60s cool, Blow Up), in 1965, during the promotional period for The IPCRESS File. It’s one of my favorite portraits ever taken, and for the reasons that Salon journalist Charles Taylor elaborates upon in a 2000 profile of Caine:

The iconic image of Michael Caine is probably best summed up by a 1965 David Bailey photograph recently reprinted in his book “Birth of the Cool.” In it, Caine wears the black horn-rimmed glasses he donned to play secret agent Harry Palmer in three films that began with “The IPCRESS File.” An unlit Gauloise dangles from his mouth, and his black suit, tie and white button-down shirt are slim and immaculate. But there’s something unstable about the photograph, an unnerving aliveness that, 35 years later, still makes its meaning impossible to pin down, cut loose from its era as much as Bailey’s chic portraits of other icons of ’60s Brit cool — Jean Shrimpton, Mick Jagger, even the Kray Brothers — are contained by their times. The portrait is bordered by the edges of the black frame, but Caine’s eyes make you feel as if you’re the one who has been nailed to the wall. Steady, cool to the point of frigidity, they look as if they’re glowing from within their partially shadowed sockets; the long eyelashes that frame them might be tiny laser beams. Caine’s impassive expression and ray-gun orbs don’t offer the certainty of either kindness or cruelty but something far more unsettling: the sensation of being coolly appraised, of having each action or utterance totted up and held to your credit or debit.

From London’s National Portrait Gallery, here’s the original:

Michael Caine by David Bailey

A photograph that evokes that much cool is practically begging for homages. And there are plenty around:

And here are some artistic interpretations:

In November of 2004, to coincide with the release of the remake of Alfie, Arena Magazine commissioned Bailey to recreate his earlier Caine photo with actor Jude Law for the cover. The cover subsequently won a best cover of the year award from Campaign.

This post first appeared on the Mister 8 website, August 2nd, 2009.

Harry Palmer Files – 006 – The David Bailey Michael Caine portrait

In their own (code) words: 6

Welcome back to another edition of ‘in their own (code) words’ wherein we look at the words of the world’s spymasters. I’m looking at Allen Dulles’ rather stolid The Craft of Intelligence, written in 1963. Dulles (1893-1969) had a long and storied career in intelligence, including a role as the first civilian director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Today I’ve chosen to look at the question of why someone would choose to be an agent (not an intelligence officer — note the distinction that Dulles draws). Allen Dulles lets us know in today’s quite political (and sort of one-sided…he doesn’t go into much detail about why a Westerner might betray their country) excerpt:

The intelligence officer engaged in covert intelligence collection described above is a career staff member of the intelligence service, an American citizen, on duty in a particular place, at home or abroad, acting on the instructions of his headquarters. He is a manager, a handler, a recruiter, also an on-the-spot evaluator of the product of his operatives. The man whom he locates, hires, trains and directs to collect information and whose work he judges is the agent. The agent, who may be of any nationality, may produce the information himself or he may have access to contacts and sources “in place” who supply him with information. His relationship with the intelligence service generally lasts as long as both parties find it satisfactory and rewarding.

If the staff intelligence officer succeeds in locating someone who is attractive to the intelligence service because of his knowledge or access to information, he must first ascertain on what basis the potential agent might be willing to work with him, or by what means he could be induced to do the job. If the agent offers his services, the intelligence officer does not have this problem, but he must still ascertain what brought the agent to him in order to understand him and handle him properly; he might, after all, have been sent by the opposition as a penetration.

As motives, ideological and patriotic convictions stand at the top of the list. The ideological volunteer, if he is sincere, is a man whose loyalty you need rarely question, as you must always question the loyalties of people who work chiefly for money or out of a desire for adventure and intrigue.

Actually, ideology is not the most accurate word for what we are describing, but we use it for want of a better one. Few people go through the analytical process of proving to themselves abstractly that one system of government is better than another. Few work out an intellectual justification or rationalization for treason as did Klaus Fuchs, who claimed that he could take an oath of allegiance to the British Crown and still pass British secrets to the Soviet Union because “I used my Marxian philosophy to establish in my mind two separate compartments.” It is more likely that views and judgements will be based on feelings and on quite practical considerations. Officials in Communist bureaucracies who are not utterly blind to the workings of the state that employs them cannot fail to see that cynicism and power-grabbing prevail in high places and that teh people are daily being duped with Marxist slogans and distortions of the truth. Communism is a system which deals harshly with all but its fanatical adherents and those who have found a way to profit from it. Every Communist country is full of people who have suffered at the hands of the state or are close to someone who has. Many such people, with only a slight nudge, may be willing to engage in espionage against a regime which they do not respect, against which they have grievances or about which they are disillusioned.

The man engaged in espionage on behalf of his own country is committing a patriotic act. The man who gives away or sells his own country’s secrets is committing treason. Today we frequently encounter another situation, in which it is usually unjust to speak of treason. The internal political conditions of the Communist nations, as was once the case in the Fascist nations, have caused thousands to flee their homelands, either to save their own lives or because of their vigorous disapproval of the government in power. If an escapee aids his hosts in the country of adoption against the country he has fled, he can hardly be said to be committing treason as that term is generally used.

The ideological agent today usually does not consider himself treasonable in the sense that he is betraying his countrymen. He is motivated primarily by a desire to see the downfall of a hated regime. Since the United States is not imperialistic and makes the distinction of opposing Communist regimes rather than peoples of those countries, there can be a basic agreement in the aims of the ideological agent and the intelligence services of free states.

The more idealistic agent of this type will not engage in espionage lightly. He may at the outset prefer to join some kind of underground movement, if there is one, or perhaps to engage in the political activities of exiles which aim directly at unseating the tyranny which dominates his country.

This post first appeared on the Mister 8 Website, December 2009.

In their own (code) words: 6

Brigitte Montfort: The Mystery of the Flying Saucer

1991 – Editora Monterrey Limitada

Although virtually unknown in the west, one of the world’s must successful spy series features a slinky spy named Brigitte Montfort. There were literally hundreds of these pocket books released in Brazil.

Thanks to Edson Aran (and that’s a BIG, BIG thank you), a Brazilian journalist and self confessed fan of spy movies I have acquired a couple of the pocket books.

It appears that these books were a serial, with each adventure playing out over three or four books.

My first hurdle is that I don’t speak Portuguese. But, like many of the movies I tackle, I don’t let little things like foreign languages get in the way of a good spy story. So to begin with, here’s my ham fisted translation of the opening page, which explains a little bit of the back story behind our slinky spy.

Brigitte Monfort In Action

Brigitte Monfort the daughter of Giselle, in
‘The Mystery of the Flying Saucer’

BEFORE STARTING

The daughter of Giselle, BRIGITTE MONFORT, exists, in some part of the world, acting under another name, in similar circumstances to the ones that are told now in this book. Her true identity, however, cannot be disclosed, so as not to jeopardise her work for the Secret Service.

In the last pages of Giselle’s biography, THE NAKED SPY WHO SHOOK PARIS, it states clearly that the famous heroine of the French Resistance, before being arrested and shot Cherche Midi prison, on the morning of 15 of March of 1944, confessed to her companion in jail, Gabriéle Ladème, that she had given birth to a daughter on the eve of World War II. The father of the child – Giselle explained – was a German who had abandoned her when she was pregnant, but later had the girl abducted.

The celebrity spy died without knowing her daughter – not even her name or her whereabouts.

Twenty years later, the daughter of Giselle appeared in the United States – pretty, elegant, courageous and…, well maybe it’s better if you start reading the story.

Thanks Edson for this treat. The books will be ‘a valuable item in my spy collection’.

Brigitte Montfort: The Mystery of the Flying Saucer

The Harry Palmer Files – 005 – The Ipcress File New York Times Review

Every Sunday, we’ll be looking at the Harry Palmer series of novels (in which the character doesn’t actually have a name), their author — Len Deighton, the films based on them, the star of those films — Michael Caine, and the television movies that followed, and giving my thoughts on all I encounter. I’ll inevitably be drawing heavily on the collection of Kees Stam, author of The Harry Palmer Movie Site, and Rob Mallows, creator of the Deighton Dossier, and other odds and ends that I’ve turned up over the years.

By BOSLEY CROWTHER
Published: August 3, 1965

It doesn’t take a detective to figure out Harry Saltzman’s game and to calculate what’s brewing in his British spy film, The IPCRESS File.

Having picked up a tidy packet as coproducer of the James Bond films and having found what appears to be a booming market for pictures about daredevil sleuths (vide Jean-Paul Belmondo’s as well as Sean Connery’s), he is obviously trying to start another with a good-looking chap named Michael Caine in this double-o-sevenish picture, which came to the Coronet yesterday.

And in one respect he has succeeded. He has built up the proper atmosphere in which a daredevil-challenging mystery might conceivably occur and a dauntless and daring detective might acceptably take wing.

His Techniscope setting of London, in which this espionage thriller takes place, is full of rich and mellow colors and highly official goings-on behind dark-paneled doors in old, gray buildings and in cozy bachelor digs and gentlemen’s clubs.

An air of mystery and menace to the very balance of scientific power seems to surround the pressing problem Civil Intelligence has to solve regarding the curious kidnapping and brainwashing—or braindraining, as they call it—of a slew of distinguished scientists. And the chaps who have to solve it seem eminently qualified.

There’s Dalby, chief of Civil Intelligence, a bristly-mustached, guardsman type, quivering with efficiency and sarcasm as played by Nigel Green. There’s Ross, chief of Military Intelligence, who has curiously passed the buck, and, in Guy Doleman’s slippery portrayal, seems not quite worthy of trust.

There’s Carswell, the canny Scot analyst who assembles the IPCRESS file and is strangely bumped off shortly after. Gordon Jackson performs well in the role.

And, finally, there’s Harry Palmer, the key sleuth, played by Mr. Caine, not to mention several lesser secret agents, including one strange, incongruous girl.

Yes, there’s everything here to charge the large screen with the toniest spy-film atmosphere, and the director, Sidney J. Furie, has added to it with his flashy camera style.

Fast, fluid, candid shooting; startling close-ups of telephones, traffic lights, train wheels; eyes and faces seen through slits in doors make for sheer physical excitement and a feeling of things happening. The IPCRESS File is as classy a spy film as you could ask to see.

But somehow Len Deighton’s story of this running down of a gang of scientist body-snatchers gets confusingly out of hand as it tumbles and swirls in the direction of a gadgeted sweatbox in which the hero’s mental reflexes are relentlessly conditioned under stress.

Suspense and even attention are allowed to lag by the script, which Bill Canaway and James Doran have written. There are too many yawning holes in it.

And for all Mr. Caine’s casual manner—for all his scholarly and amiable air—he just doesn’t ooze the magnetism that would make him an irresistible sleuth. He is simply too much of an esthete. He loves Mozart, cooking, and books as much as he loves—well, temptation of the sort introduced by Sue Lloyd.

There may be a place in the affections of some filmgoers for a genteel cop—for one who can cook up a stew as well as a turmoil. But this one will never take the place of Bond.

This review first appeared on the Mister 8 website on August 2009.

The Harry Palmer Files – 005 – The Ipcress File New York Times Review

In their own (code) words: 5

Welcome back to another edition of ‘in their own (code) words’ wherein we look at the words of the world’s spymasters. I’m looking at Allen Dulles’ rather stolid The Craft of Intelligence, written in 1963. Dulles (1893-1969) had a long and storied career in intelligence, including a role as the first civilian director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Today’s excerpt deals with the tracking of illegal radio operators. It’s interesting to recognize how much the technology available to assets and officers has changed, and to wonder how much things like cellphones have affected the game.

Counterintelligence, like most branches of intelligence work, has many technical resources, and one among them has been responsible in the past for uncovering more concealed intelligence networks than any other single measure. This is the interception and locating of illegal radio transmitters, known as “direction-finding,” or D/Fing for short. It employs sensitive electronic which, when mounted on mobile receivers, in a car or truck, can track down the location of a radio signal by indicating whether the signal is getting stronger or weaker as a mobile receiver weaves around a city listening to what has already been identified as an illegal transmitter.

Every legal radio transmitter, commercial or amateur, in most countries today is licensed and registered. In this country the call signal and the exact location of the transmitter are on record with the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC monitors the air waves at all times as a law-enforcement procedure. This leads to the uncovering of enthusiastic “ham” radio operators who haven’t bothered to get a license. It also leads to the discovery of illegal agent transmitters. The latter are usually identifiable because their messages are enciphered and they do not use any call signal on record.

Monitoring of a suspicious signal may also reveal that the operator has some kind of fixed schedule for going on the air, and this almost unfailingly points to the fact that he is transmitting to a foreign headquarters by prearrangement. At this point the D/Fing process begins. The main difficulty of tracking is that the illegal operator stays on the air, for obvious reasons, only for very short periods. As the mobile D/F experts try to trace his signal across a large city on air waves crowded with other signals, he suddenly finishes, goes off the air, and there is nothing the D/Fers can do until he comes on again some days or weeks later. If the Soviets are behind the operation, the transmission schedule, while fixed, may follow a pattern that is not easy to spot. Also, the transmitting frequency may change from time to time. The only solution is for the D/F headquarters to listen for the suspicious signal all the time and keep after it. But here, too, the technicians have invented new improvements to foil and outwit each other. The latest is a high-speed method of transmission. The operator does not sit at his telegraph key sending as fast as he can. He prerecords his message on tape, then plays the tape over the air at breakneck speed, too fast for any ear to disentangle. His receiving station at home records the transmission and can replay it at a tempo which is intelligible. If the illegal operator is on the air for only twenty or thirty seconds, the D/Fers are not going to get very far in their attempt to pinpoint the physical location of the transmitter.

This post first appeared on the Mister 8 Website, December 2009.

In their own (code) words: 5