Tuesday, March 11, 2014

It Was a Danger Zone at the Spyfi & Superspies Household

A highly anticipated package arrived today....

Cue Kenny Loggins The Danger Zone because our Archer Trading Cards for Seasons #1 – 4 and accompanying Archer binder came in the mail today!

...and inside, a box of Archer trading cards and the accompanying binder .

Several months ago, my boyfriend and I spied the trading card set in Previews, so we sought out our prior comic book store guy, Richard, to see if he could order us a box and a binder since we didn’t have any connections in Orange. Going through Richard, we were pretty much assured to have our ordered filled and true to his word, he did not let us down. He even shipped our goodies all the way from Washington State. A huge Spyfi & Superspies thank you goes out to Richard!

I think Romeo was trying to figure out if it was some new food.
His look seems to indicate he is hoping not. 

Ashes was just happy to have the box, which afforded him a front row seat to the activities. 

Twenty-four lovely packets of trading cards just waiting for us to tear into them! 

With box and packaging cast aside where one of our cats quickly took up residence, much to the chagrin of our other two boys, we divvied up the 24 packets into two sets of 12. Wondering if we would get any autographs or sketch cards, we took turns opening up each packet. The beau found the first incentive card, an autograph card from Mr. James Hong, who we have had the pleasure of meeting at one of the Hollywood Collector’s Shows in the past couple of years (he signed my laserdisc of Blade Runner!). We sighed with relief with the first of hopefully a few more incentive cards in our box.

Irma Ahmed's "Lana" sketch card and James Hong autograph card bookend our incentive cards - not too shabby! 

My anal retentive side was trying to organize the cards numerically from the start, but in the end, I gave up and reverted to grouped stacked to be sorted after we unwrapped the 24 packets of 120 cards in total. As we read each one, some we recognized and got a good chuckle since we had a point of reference (we have watched season one so far), while others revealed just how zany the Archer group truly was the first four seasons.

The regular set of trading cards representing the first four seasons of the hit show

Too soon, we were through all of our packets. I spread out each card in numerical order  (finally!) so we could take a good look through each card again. The abundance of nudity should not have been surprising, but it still was. The sexual innuendoes were plentiful – some down right “roll your eyes” and groan type – and of course there were several spy references! In the end, we had our one complete set of regular cards (73 if you count the checklist card), 8 lovely incentive cards, and about 40 duplicate regular cards.

Of all of them, here are a handful of cards that stuck out for me.

Top Row: #01 and #18 - Middle Row: #20 and #26 - Bottom Row: #19 and #38

#01 Sterling Archer, Codename Duchess
“Known from Berlin to Bangkok as the world’s most dangerous spy.” – Crenshaw
For a totally dysfunctional spy with a lot of hangups, Sterling is really smoking as a spy. This was definitely done with the ladies in mind!

#18 La Vendetta
“Che tipo davvero. Cazzo fascista.” – Malory
Jessica Walker rocks as the voice of Malory and I still remember her in a little movie called Play Misty for Me with a young Clint Eastwood as a radio station D.J. who must deal with possessive fan (Walker). If you haven’t seen it, check it out. Anyway, Malory wears noir quite well!

#20 A Huge History Together
“Sorry that took so long, and that I’m accidentally inside you.” – Barry
I LOVE the nod made to Goldfinger and all that is implied. Pretty good episode too!

#26 Get Some, You Sons of Bitches!
“My problem, Lana, is that you just Bonnie and Clyded my starting middies!” – Archer
Honestly, I think Lana looks badass here and reminds me of so many of the men’s adventure movies of the 80s looking all tough and roughed with their big guns!

#19 The Danger Zone
“And those were his last words, right before he bled to death on the rug.” – Lana
Yeah, I admit it. I picked it specifically for the nod to Kenny Loggins, which was still looping in the background.

#38 Fight Club
“And sorry about your homie, homies.” – Pam
Initially, I did not appreciate Pam, but she has grown on me. I chuckle to “Holy shitsnacks!” I cannot tell a lie. She embodies unique....

And there you have it, the Archer Trading Cards for Seasons #1 – 4. I think it was worth the money – we definitely had a couple of hours of fun unwrapping them and looking through them all – and already the beau is scouring eBay for the rest of the incentive cards to make our set nearer to completion.

Watch out for the Danger Zone! 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

SWPACA Post Annual Conference Report (2014)

It's February, it must be Albuquerque, New Mexico

I make a yearly trek to downtown Albuquerque, home of Route 66 and the location of a budding film community known as Tamale-wood, for the Southwest Popular/American Culture Association’s annual conference. During the day, this high desert city has a modest bustling business district and each night as darkness takes root and the streets become sparse of activity, many of the business buildings are bathed in beautiful hues of soft light, revealing why this place is known as the city of light. And centered in the Hyatt, a couple of thousand undergraduate, graduate and independent scholars assemble to discuss all things pop culture over three days each February.

In my third year as the James Bond, Espionage and Eurospy Area Chair, this year there was a marked increase in interested presenters for my area. I had 14 presenters that made up four panel sessions. Three sessions were scheduled Wednesday afternoon and the fourth was Thursday morning.

Here’s a recap of presenters and their presentation titles. All gave informative presentations that solicited intriguing Q&A sessions.  

Panel 1: Brody and Rafael

Session 1: Literary Bond

Brody Wedgeworth of Stephen F. Austin State University
“Mechanical Spies and Female Sidekicks: Ludlum's Response to Fleming's Bond”

Rafael Hernandez of University of Florida
“Secret Agency: Fanon, Algeria, and the Female Double Agent in Spy Fiction”

Panel 2: Tom and Sarah
Session 2: Gender and Identity

Tom McNeely of Vernon College
“The Feminization of M, Revisited: Gender and Authority in the Bond Films”

Sarah Kelley of University of Bristol
“For Queen and Country: James Bond and National Identity in the Daniel Craig Era”

Session 3: Audio Interpretations

Ian Dawe, Independent Scholar
“ 'Archer': A Spy Parody for the Ears”

Michele Brittany, Independent Scholar
“Spectra*Paris' Murder Show: The James Bond Rock Opera”

Panel 4: Elyn, Hannah and Nick
Session 4: Cold War Spies

Elyn Achtymichuk of University of Saskatchewan
“Women on Fire and Men Bleeding Spades: The Audio-Visual Signifiers of Masculinity in the Opening Sequence of James Bond Films”

Hannah Means-Shannon of Georgian Court University
“Super-Spies Face the Collective Shadow of the Cold War in Matt Kindt's Mind MGMT

Nicholas Diak, Independent Scholar
“Spionagio all'italiana: Exploring Italy's Spy Film Phenomenon and Its Importance to Italian Film Canon”

Film Screening: The Quiller Memorandum (1966)
This was my second year hosting a film screening. Last year, my showing of Michel Hazanavicius’ OSS 117 Cairo Nest of Spies (2006) packed the room, so I decided to reach back into the spy vault and selected The Quiller Memorandum (1966, Michael Anderson). This spy-thriller was shot on location in Berlin and at Pinewood Studios and was based on the 1965 spy novel by Elleston Trevor titled The Berlin Memorandum. The film starred Alec Guinness, Max von Sydow (timeless!), and a young George Segal as Quiller. The score was composed by John Barry, who scored Thunderball and You Only Live Twice. The film received three BAFTA nominations for Best British Screenplay, Best British Art Direction, and Best British Film Editing.

The film meets up with Quiller, who has been assigned to assist the British secret organization stationed in Berlin where there are covert Neo Nazi fractions operating. The relationship between Quiller and his handler (Guiness) is filled with controlled animosity and nothing of the almost stern fatherly relationship Bond has with M. Much emphasis is placed on the non-descript – “could be anyone” – enemy that Quiller is trying to uncover. Along the way, Quiller continually ditches the shadow agent that is meant to protect him, but he is completely inept at losing the henchmen of the main villain (Sydow). Quiller’s spy abilities are consistently called into question: does he know what he is doing? Is he lucky, or unlucky, depending on the situation? Part of interesting part of the film is its pacing, which compliments a sense of anxiety and tension, never really crossing into an action film – it is a pot that never boils. 

Film Screening Panel: Ian, Rob, Nick, and Hannah

Given the “anti-Bond” nature of the film, I felt it was less approachable as a result, so I invited Ian Dawe, Nicholas Diak, Hannah Means-Shannon, and Robert Weiner to sit for a round table discussion at the conclusion of the showing. Each summarized their thoughts on the film, but one common theme they all agreed on was the surrealistic nature of the film. Quiller’s efficiency as a spy was another topic of conversation by the panel, and the audience.

The movie did not attract nearly the same numbers as the previous year, but I think it was a valuable film to contrast with the Bond films of the 1960s. While I do want to screen a film next year, I’m not sure what film it will be. Initially, I am interested in showing Agent Vinod (2012), but I’m concerned about the length (160 minutes). 

Since my panels were over Thursday morning, I did spend time visiting the booksellers that were set up outside of the various meeting rooms: Intellect, McFarland, and University of New Mexico Press, stand out each year. This is the time to snag books you have been wanting, but couldn’t afford since some of the presses will offer conference discounts. I was fortunate to come across a book on Brian de Palma from Intellect, which fits nicely with my research on SPECTRA*Paris.

I cannot express how very important and beneficial it is to spend time networking at these academic conferences. The open lobby area of the Hyatt was conducive for re-establishing professional friendships and making new connections. You never know what conversations you’ll end having with others. It can be a wonderful organic experience. This is in addition to presenting of course. Most of the panels are smaller, allowing 15 – 20 minutes of speaking time. Audience size varies, depending on the time of day, what other panels are going at the same time, and popularity of the subject matter. Time spent presenting is always to one’s advantage.

Thursday evening, I attended the film screening of the later silents The Man Who Laughs (1928) starring Conrad Veidt (one of my favourites!) and Mary Philbin in the German film directed by Paul Leni. Rob Weiner hosted the screening as a study of the first portrayals of a Joker character in film. What a treat to experience such films on a big screen and amongst other cinephiles. I just wish I had not been sick and suffering from intermittent bouts of laryngitis throughout the conference, otherwise I would have enjoyed participating in the discussion afterwards.

Networking and making friends Thursday night

The rest of the evening and into the wee hours of the morning was spent chatting with a fantastic group of folks and then it was on an early Friday morning flight back home. My shuttle driver was an older man dressed in leathers and from the East Coast. He was quite a character: he quizzed three very sleepy-eyed and rather incoherent pop culture scholars about Andy Warhol and Velvet Underground. While exiting, he whispered he was 72 – well, he was definitely still young at heart and I wish I could have been more engaging at 5 AM.

The conference continued through Saturday with a scheduled Breaking Bad trip for conference-goers interested in seeing the various places around Albuquerque featured in the series. I understand it was a fun time and the weather quite mild for February. I know I’ll be back next year, so if you are interested in attending a friendly, smaller pop culture conference and presenting on James Bond, spy-fi, espionage and/or Eurospy,  check back here for my call for proposals later this year.  

Monday, March 3, 2014

MrAnderson212: Even A Spy Needs A Little Help Sometimes

My work doesn’t usually afford me the opportunity to date, however while on a mission today, I needed to get close to the woman I was following. Unbeknownst to me, my partner got me a date with her for 8 o’clock at one of the more upscale restaurants in New York City. You see, my partner is rather good with computers – he said he coerced the “background algorithms” to match us up (it helped that she loves dogs). He built initial rapport with her by chatting her up in the hours leading up to the date.

Now, I’ll be honest, I didn’t bother to read to dossier prior to the date because I was busy stealing a slick car in order to impress her, which well, kind of worked. Her eyes lit up when I drove up, then she commented that she wondered if I was compensating for some yet to be discovered character flaw or deficiency. Ouch!

I ordered champagne, only to discover she preferred a white wine. Okay, a tiny slip. I smiled. She asked about my job. I couldn’t tell her the truth, and my cover was that I was the VP of my actuarial firm. Seriously? I hated math in school unless it was to calculate the trajectory of a particularly difficult sniper shot I was setting up. Okay, I got this: women love humor. “Well, it’s real boring most days, so I try not to fall asleep.” In my hidden earpiece, my partner berates me, saying she is career focused and looking for that in a man. Damn, two strikes. What happened to being the suave spy on sheer charm and personality?

My partner mentions something about using psychology and suddenly appears the one of the most powerful women of the city, who I have worked with on a couple of cases. Yeah, of course, she’s beautiful, but a colleague to my way of thinking. My date perked right up, knowing full well who my friend was. I smiled because suddenly, those strikes were history. Whoa, what was that? My friend patted my butt?! And in front of my date? And my date was still interested? Maybe my partner did know what he was talking about. I better pull those glasses out he got me so I could look more intelligent.

As a spy and a rogue one at that, trouble always has a way of finding me…..

The above entry is my spin on Bury My Lede, the fifth episode of season two of Person of Interest that was released on DVD a couple of weeks ago. The series is in its third season and stars Jim Caviezel as John Reese, a rogue CIA agent who has been hired by Michael Emerson’s Harold Finch, a wealthy billionaire who created the enigmatic Machine. The Machine is an advanced computer system that uses data gleaned from the omnipresent surveillance system in order to identify potential acts of violence (I hesitate to use “terrorism” because of the misappropriated use of the term that I believe creates a false identity into the nature of the show). During each episode, Finch and Reese work together to solve if their target irrelevant individual (the Machine provides Finch with only the social security number) is a victim or perpetrator to a violent act. In addition, I think the show also provides insight into the issue of surveillance, which naturally has been a hot topic for the past dozen years in the US.

Although billed as a crime drama, there are spy and espionage elements to the show. While gadgets are minimal and limited to technology in the here and now, and exotic locales are almost non-existent. The show instead relies on character development and the relationships that are formed and shaped by the various events the characters experience in each episode, a facet more easily explored on the small screen rather than the big one. The audience gets more insight into the covert world of the domestic and foreign secret agencies as well as the NYPD. Somehow, I just don’t think the show would work if it was set in Boise, Idaho – no disrespect to Boise.

While the rest of the world is into season three, I’m enjoying the evolving relationship between Reese and Finch. Reese rivals James Bond fighting and weapons ability, and as a rogue agent, we see a side of John that is conflicted, dealing with lost love, a lost sense of humanity and justice, but also with a sense of hope that comes from his partnership with Finch. Finch is also adrift, but for other reasons: mostly guilt for his role in the creation of the powerful network of surveillance his machine has assumed. He is looking for redemption through deeds that will save the irrelevant numbers from his Machine.

The exploration of morality and ethical reasoning is further fetered out with the two other main supporting characters, Detective Carter (Taraji P. Henson) and Detective Fusco (Kevin Chapman) – playing the good and corrupt cops respectively. Det. Carter and Fusco are both single parents; Carter’s singlehood is vague but we know that Fusco is divorced and has at least partial custody of his son. It is the norm rather than the exception in today’s society. However each has the added pressure of facing life and death each day – others and their own. They are faced with tough choices. Carter is used to taking the high road, but lately, that preverbal line has become fuzzy and muted. And Fusco, well, you just kind of have to root that he’ll get to wear the white hat for the entire world to see someday. He has to be dirty so everyone else doesn’t have to.

However, in this blog entry, I wanted to spotlight the lighter side to this series and the characters, in this case Reese and Finch as they provide protection of Maxine Angelis (Gloria Votsis), a star journalist that stops at nothing to get her headline story. My post opener is from the perspective of Reese, in the hours leading up to his date with Maxine. Up to this point in the series, the closest love interest and “equal” to Reese has been Zoe Morgan (Paige Turco), a high-powered crisis management fixer, who has worked with him on a couple of cases. She is the friend in the opener above. And unlike Bond, who is known, Reese is the “man in a suit” that seeks to remain anonymous, which has a way of cramping dating opportunities.

Finch has the intelligence quotient necessary for courting Maxine and wastes no time in flirting via texting, while Reese helplessly watches from afar as Maxine smiles as she reads some witty banter with Reese via Finch. It’s a power dance between the two men, who by this time, have been through quite a lot and have found trust in each other, but there’s still room for each man to find that point where they can gain the advantage over the other. Finch obviously has the upper hand with courtship.

Typical John Reese, at home with maintaining his high-powered sniper weapon at the office table, much to the chagrin of Finch, who abhors guns. When asked if he has to do that in the office, Reese retorts that he cannot very well do this out at the park. Dating material?

Jim Caviezel as rogue CIA agent John Reese tells Finch he cannot very well clean his sniper weapon at the park

Finch thinks Reese needs some help and sets up a phony profile at Match-Heart.com so he can get a date with Maxine.

John Reese becomes Mr John Anderson, bogus Match-Heart.com profile - even spies need a little dating help

Here's a portion of his profile:

44/M/Straight/Single – New York City, NY

My Details
Ethnicity:                        White
Height:                            6’2”
Body Type:                    Athletic
Sign:                               Aries
Level of Education:        Post Graduate/Professional Degree
Job:                                 Finance
Pets:                                Dog
Previously Married:        No
Languages Spoken:        English
Drinks:                           Socially
Smokes:                         Never

About Me
Intelligent, hardworking guy looking for a bright, vivacious woman to explore this dynamic city with.

I’m an outdoorsy, active person. My canine companion (his name is “Bear”) and I enjoy lengthy walks through the city and its parks. I’m always on the lookout for a great new restaurant or bar; Bear is generally interested exclusively in hot dog vendors.

And while I enjoy the out-of-doors, I’m also a big fan of cinema. I’ve been known to spend entire afternoons at Hitchcock retrospectives. Though some might think it cliché, dinner and a movie sounds like a perfect date to me.

I enjoy my work – it’s a great balance between analytics and client relations. I believe that hard work, dedication, and loyalty yield strong relationships in business as well as in life. I’m always in pursuit of a healthy balance between work and well, the other important things in life.

Seeking to find that wonderful woman who knows who she is and what she wants. Someone who is self-possessed, witty, and wise, with a sense of adventure.

What I’m doing these days….
I’m a VP at an actuarial firm, specializing in risk management. (Don’t worry, I’m not a total square.) When I’m not working, I’m kayaking…..

And Finch lends a hand by texting Maxine prior to the date. Reese looks on worriedly, while.....

Maxine finds the texts endearing as Reese observes from afar asking Finch, "What I am saying to her Finch?"

 .... Finch finds getting the upper hand on Reese in the arena of courtship, amusing.

Michael Emerson as Harold Finch, finding a bit of humor in his job

The first, second, and third dates don’t go well and due to the extent of trouble Maxine is in – after an exchange of gunfire in the street – Reese tells her he is taking her back to his place. Of course, Finch is listening in and realizes that he has to drop Bear off before Reese and Maxine arrive. Finch gets Bear settled with his squeaky toy, but not in time for Finch to get away. He is forced to hide in Reese’s closet and while waiting for the opportunity to make a clean escape, he notices he is surrounded by an arsenal of weaponry….

Finch, hiding out in Reese's closet, finds the company completely unsettling

I’m anxious to see how the rest of season plays out and how our four (no, make that five, counting Bear) characters fair. Served with a light dose of humor that makes the seriousness of the series palpable and more engaging, if you haven’t watched Person of Interest, I do recommend it.