The Good Shepherd (2006):

This is Robert DeNiro's epic-length fictionalization of the formation of the CIA.

That's a difficult subject to tackle. The intrinsic nature of the CIA means that its public history is filled with disinformation, and that portions of the history, perhaps large portions, have never become public at all. Even the portions which are known are confusing. Years after Glasnost,  with many of the old KGB files now available to scholars, there is still considerable debate, for example, about whether certain Russian defectors were actually planted by the KGB. The screenwriter's solution to the story's inherent uncertainties was to fictionalize the story, consolidating some characters and creating others from whole cloth, while offering a slightly different spin on some events. The resultant project is a strange blend of reality and fiction, with the viewer left in the dark about which is which.

The Bay of Pigs fiasco, for example, is given a completely fictional overlay. According to the version, the Cubans knew about the invasion plans because one of the CIA's bureau chiefs (counter-intelligence) had a discussion which could be overheard by his son, and the son's girlfriend was actually a KGB mole. As far as I know, none of that has any basis in fact, although there does appear to have been a American leak, and the KGB did warn Castro in advance of the imminent invasion. In reality, it was a completely different branch of CIA which was involved in the invasion, not counter-intel, and three senior CIA officers were forced to resign, including the director of intelligence, Allen Dulles, and the director of plans, Richard Bissell.

On the other hand, the famous case of Golitsyn and Nosenko has been re-tooled to make it more cinematic. In real life, they were two former KGB officers who offered contradictory information to the CIA. Golitsyn claimed that he was a defector while Nosenko was a KGB plant pretending to be a defector. Nosenko claimed it was the other way around. The fictional version in The Good Shepherd changed the story in two fundamental ways. First, the two Russians were both claiming to be the same guy! Second, the CIA's director of counter-intelligence eventually found out that the one he chose to believe had been the wrong one, and rectified his mistake. In reality, the director of counter-intel continued to believe the wrong guy long after his colleagues and the FBI had taken the opposite position.  Contrary to the film's portrayal, the "wrong guy" was never executed or arrested, but lived in the West to a ripe old age and wrote two books about his life in the intelligence game. He remained friends with the ousted director of counter-intel who had believed him.

Other parts of the story are virtually non-fictional. The Matt Damon character, the director of counter-intelligence, is primarily based on James Jesus Angleton, the same fascinating figure who formed the core of Norman Mailer's fictional "Harlot." The first half of the movie is virtually a biographical account of Angleton's involvement in WW2, the OSS (CIA's predecessor), and the creation of the CIA. Like the Damon character, Angleton did graduate from Yale, where he was the editor of the poetry review, and he did go on to be trained in intelligence by the British agent Kim Philby, who later turned out to be a KGB agent. (He was the famous "third man.") Like the Damon character, Angleton was known to the Soviets as "Mother," and was known to be an abstemious workaholic and insomniac. The screenwriter has also chosen, presumably for reasons of economy,  to incorporate elements of other CIA officers into the Damon character, so there is not a direct one-to-one correspondence between Angleton and "Edward Wilson." In fact, Angleton's career was not profoundly affected by the Bay of Pigs invasion. Unlike several other senior CIA officials, he was a survivor of that incident, and his power base may even have benefited from the elimination of his most powerful rivals. Angleton was finally undone by his Nixon-era use of the CIA to spy on student activists and other anti-war figures, which was done in direct violation of a CIA charter which forbids the domestic surveillance of American citizens. Angleton, like Nixon himself, suspected that the anti-war movement was actually being manipulated by KGB.

Now that I think about it, somebody should write a mini-series about the real Angleton. (There's no way one could cover the subject in a single film.) His life and his perceptions between 1940 and 1975 offer an unique spin on America in that period.  By the time he was forced out, the paranoid Angleton had burned just about every possible bridge by accusing several prominent North Americans of being manipulated by the KGB, including Gerald Ford, Henry Kissinger, and Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau! But the Good Shepherd is not that story.

Since the Good Shepherd story is not the absolute truth, and in any case many parts of the truth are still unknown to us, we cannot evaluate it as the history of CIA, even though the film seems to take itself seriously enough to invite such an interpretation. A more appropriate approach would be to draw a parallel between this film and The Godfather. The Good Shepherd is as accurate an account of the formation of the CIA as The Godfather is of the formation of the modern crime syndicates.

We therefore have to measure the film's value as entertainment. In that respect, it fails in many respects. First of all, the film has no characters we can identify with. The Matt Damon character, who is on screen almost continuously, is neither entertaining nor likeable. He is a man of few words and fewer facial expressions. (One, to be exact.) His intentions are good, but he is a calculating man and totally devoid of warmth. Once he graduates from Yale, he has no friends, tells no jokes, spouts no interesting words. His entire life consists of CIA business and he has virtually abandoned his family.

And he's the most likeable character.

His story is made even more aloof by the fact that director Robert DeNiro has chosen not to age the character in any significant way. Damon looks almost exactly the same in the earliest and latest scenes. At one point there is a transition where his son goes instantly from five-year-old to college senior, but Damon looks exactly the same in both time periods. Maybe he changed his glasses. This is actually quite confusing since the film jumps back and forth between some two decades of history and we can't anchor ourselves by noting Damon's appearance.

Lacking identification with a character, we look for some involvement in the story, but the structure is not very compelling. The film begins with some post-analysis of the leaks in the Bay of Pigs planning, and the entire story is driven by the search for the mysterious source of the leak, as well as a look at the techniques used by the analysts to pinpoint that source. I suppose that means I've already spoiled the film for you above, but practically speaking you will not be held spellbound by the solution to this mystery. At the beginning of the film I guessed wrong at the source of the leak, but by the time the revelation is finally made, the surprise has been totally spoiled. In fact, we "get it" faster than the Damon character, although we do not fully understand everyone's motivations.

So the film is not historical, the storyline is not especially compelling, the timelines are somewhat confusing because of the aging factor, and the main character is totally devoid of personality. Not much of a recommendation, is it? And yet the film holds a certain fascination, and I finished with an ambivalence toward The Good Shepherd. I found it to be overlong and sometimes boring, and I hated the non-ending. And yet the film's gravitas managed to persuade me that I should pay attention to it for my own good. In certain respects, the film seems to give us a great deal of insight into how the counter-intel battle worked between KGB and CIA, and that was quite an intriguing chess game. Chess is not much of a spectator sport, but the film's presentation of the match has elegance, heft, and a subtlety to it that commands our attention and respect, as if we were listening to the war stories of a soldier who had thrown himself in the way of a bullet to save our live.


Martina Gedeck (collage)



  • Lisa London shows off some massive jubblies in Sudden Impact (Zipped avi)

  • An interesting look at Irene Jacob, then and now. She made The Double Life of Veronique (zipped .avi) in 1991, while in her miod-twenties, and The Education of Fairies (zipped .avi) in 2006 at age 40. She's aged well. (Here's the Movie House Commentary on Double Life. Neither of us has seen the new film.)  





Catch the deluxe version of Other Crap in real time, with all the bells and whistles, here.





Yellow asterisk: funny (maybe). White asterisk: expanded format. Blue asterisk: not mine. No asterisk: it probably sucks.





Cheatin' Hearts (1993)

I don't know what it is about me and IMDb genre choices lately, but IMDb lists this as a western. While it takes place in New Mexico, and the male lead wears a cowboy hat, it is decidedly not a western. This is especially frustrating because I am not sure exactly what it is. I suppose "drama" is general enough to cover it.

As the film opens, Jenny (Sally Kirkland) is told that her mortgage has been turned down, and she will lose her family home the following Monday. She has never lived anywhere else and the house was built by her grandparents, but her husband (James Brolin), who has abandoned the family, took out a mortgage to buy a garage in town. After he split, she couldn't afford the payments. The timing is bad as well, as her younger daughter is getting married. Sally hopes to see Brolin for the wedding, as does the daughter. Their older daughter, who describes herself as the daughter from hell, shows up from Julliard. About the only bright spot in Kirkland's world is Kris Kristofferson, who is waiting patiently for her.

Daddy does arrive, but has his new girlfriend in tow, safely hidden in a motel. Kirkland guesses correctly that he is after something. Will Brolin's life and lies catch up with him? Will Kirkland lose the house? Does Kristofferson have a chance?

Aha, this is a melodrama!

We have the evil banker waiving the deed and molesting the poor heroine, Snidely Whiplash trying to defraud Kirkland as Nell one last time for his own gain, and the foreclosure deadline playing the part of the lumber mill. Will Dudley Doright (Kristofferson) arrive in time?

This film was released on video in Germany as Paper Hearts. Cheatin' Hearts is the US incarnation of this direct to video. Or at least I guess it went straight to video, since I see no evidence of a theatrical release. In fact, it could easily have been a made for cable. It's a film that looks good, and is full of likable characters, but somehow just did not add up to a good film. I am not sure the script could have been made into a better film, but a little more focus on humor or sex might have given it broader appeal, and Pamela Gidley as the older "daughter from hell" deserved much more exposure as the girl conflicted by her love for a local and her desire to escape what she considers a dead end life. As it was made, Cheatin Hearts languishes in no man's land with a G look about it and a PG script, but an R for the nude scene.


IMDb readers say 4.2, and based on only 22 votes.


Sally Kirkland again, 24 years older and many cup sizes larger than yesterday. Kirkland does full frontal and rear nudity in an amusing confrontation with Brolin in the street. It was nice to see Kirkland making good use of her implants a few years before she had them removed.







Dann reports on Factotum:

Based on a novel by Charles Bukowski about his own life experiences, 2005's Factotum is classified as a comedy, but unless you like laughing at the self-imposed misfortunes of others, you'll probably consider this stark and bleak look at the life of drunks as a drama, and a sad one at that.

Hank Chinaski, a fictionalized version of the author, is himself a self-professed author who rarely finishes anything but a bottle. He drifts from meaningless job to meaningless job, and always gets fired either for drinking on the job, or leaving in the middle of the day to drink. In his mind, the only purpose for working is to buy booze.

Hank works his way through a myriad of women, also drunks usually met in bars, and treats them with about as little respect as he treats his jobs.

Totally depressing tale was saved by very good performances by Matt Dillon, Lili Taylor, and Marisa Tomei. I enjoyed the performances, while I appreciated but did not like the story. If you're in the mood to be thoroughly depressed, watch this one.

For those interested in such matters, these are my 2000, 2001, and 2002 collages still in circulation (a few have been withdrawn over time on request of the people in the collages).

Lili Taylor Marisa Tomei Emily Hynnek





Reading Scoop's comments New Years Eve about the Morgan Fairchild 80's flick "The Seduction" brought back the same memories for me, as I too wore out a VHS tape ogling this gorgeous TV star, all the while finding it hard to believe that she was really being seen naked. So we just  had to do a few caps.




Notes and collages

The Supernatural Ladies

Stephanie Menuez  in The Rapture

Mimi Rogers  in The Rapture

Carole Davis  in The Rapture










Jessica Alba at the beach. Just bikini shots, but she sure fills it out nicely.



Kristin Scott-Thomas in Chromophobia, still getting her bra off at age 45



Penelope Cruz in Chromophobia (non nudes)



Toni Collette in The Dead Girl



Mary Beth Hurt in The Dead Girl



A run of hi-def caps comin' up (not mine, but definitely welcome)

First, Keira Knightley in Domino



Hi-def caps:

Lauren Lee Smith in Lie With Me, voted one of the year's best nude scenes



Hi-def caps:

Jessica Alba in Into the Blue



Hi-def caps:

Ashley Scott in Into the Blue



Hi-def caps:

Maria Bello in A History of Violence



Hi-def caps:

Lynn Chen in Saving Face