In Appreciation of… Socrates

September 25, 2009


Football doesn’t have any great characters these days. The increased professionalism of the game, with its emphasis on athleticism over skill and hard running over creative intelligence, has produced a generation of footballers remarkable mostly for their pathological dullness. David Beckham? Steven Gerrard? Useful enough players I guess, but hardly likely to leave you breathless with some mesmerising bit of match day inspiration. It’s even worse when they’re off the pitch. Stick a microphone in front of them and they’ll struggle to articulate a complete sentence, let alone provide a memorable soundbite. An interview with a guy like Michael Owen leaves you with the uneasy question of whether somebody could really be that emotionally detached without being a cyborg or a closet psychopath. That’s modern footballers for you. Good at chasing around after a pig’s bladder and buying sports cars, but as dim as a bowl of porridge and just about as charismatic. The hell with modern football I say. The 70’s and 80’s were where it was at. Back then there were some real renegades. And you had some teams who could play with real style. I’ll take a coke-addled half-bonkers Argentinean midget as the best player in the world over some new fangled pampadoured designer clothes hanger any day of the week. Or how about Socrates, the chain-smokin’, beer swillin’ leftist revolutionary and anti-athlete, who was just about the coolest guy ever to kick a football.

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Despot of the Week #7 – Benito Mussolini

September 23, 2009

Big Brother is watching you: Fascism is born in Italy

In the first half of the 20th century, Europe was one seriously messed up place. It was a time that constituted the last bastion of the old, crumbling Empire building European states. Every tribe on the continent feared and loathed every other tribe.  They’d all been fighting each other for pretty much most of the last one and a half thousand years or so – ever since the collapse of the Roman Empire in fact. The only good foreigner was a dead foreigner as far as most Europeans were concerned. Preferably with knitting needles sticking out of his eyeballs. The increasingly unhinged paranoia and encroaching senility of the old European elite led the continent blindly into the First World War – the most destructive war in history up until that time and just about the most pointless, so far as what anybody actually got out of it.

Economic stagnation followed, and then the Great Depression. Europe might as well have been back in the Dark Ages. The stench of revolution was in the air. People were pissed. They were prepared to get behind any ideology that appeared to offer something more glamorous and interesting than what they had at present. Just about anything, in other words. It was like Judaea at the turn of the millenium. People would listen to any deluded nutjob willing to get up on a soapbox in the market square and claim to be the son of God. Turmoil, upheaval and disillusion will do that to a people. That was Italy in the 1920’s. Into that great big desire for any alternative stepped Mussolini and his ideas about fascism – the most oppressive (and the most camp) form of government to come out of the 20th century. Fascism had a bit of everything: dressing up in uniform, wearing medals, putting on silly hats, marching around, saluting the flag and admiring gigantic propaganda posters featuring homoerotic imagery of muscular, Spartan supermen who would be the fascist worshipping utopians of the future. The people found it all very exciting. This is the story of how Mussolini pranced into power and captured the peoples’ imagination, only to be savagely hacked to pieces for his comic level of incompetence during World War II.

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CIA Fuckwits: Burn After Reading Review

September 18, 2009


Scenario: You’re a director. Your last film received a level of acclaim unprecedented in your career and won an upset Best Picture Oscar at the Academy Awards. Question: What do you follow it up with? Answer: Well if you’re the Coen Brothers, you totally fuck with the expectations of your growing critical respectability by following No Country For Old Men with a burlesque, wanton, scatter shot of a movie like Burn After Reading. There was much rubbing of jaws and scratching of heads after this one. Even those critics who confessed to liking Burn After Reading, did so in a rather quizzical and wary fashion. Just what were those crazy Coen Brothers up to? Ingenuously pursuing their own idiosyncratic career trajectory, or deliberately messing with peoples’ heads? Not much point in asking them, they’d probably deny everything anyway. Maybe the critics just need to lighten up and stop fretting so damn much.  Burn After Reading is a deliciously acerbic dose of off the cuff comedy. Even accepting that it’s something of an impromptu, throwaway effort by their usual standards, there’s plenty here for the Coen Brothers aficionado to savour.

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Iran: So Are They Gonna Get The Bomb?

September 16, 2009

Iran Bomb

On October 1, Iranian negotiators are set to meet with representatives from six nations (the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia and China) to address concerns over Iran’s uranium enrichment program. This comes to a backdrop of Iran already stating their refusal to suspend any such program – which it stresses is strictly for civilian energy purposes – while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lobbies the international community for stricter sanctions against the Persian nation. As far as the US and Israel are concerned, there is no question that Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons, although rather pointedly, they have yet to present any evidence that this is the case.  Amid the atmosphere of mutual distrust and recrimination, it appears  likely that the opposing parties will leave the conference in much the same stance that they went in: deadlocked over the issue of Iran’s uranium enrichment and firmly convinced that there is no common point of consensus. All too predictably, the ominous possibility of military conflict – with all the dire consequences for the world that this might entail – looms in the background. But the means for a diplomatic resolution are readily at hand – if pursued seriously. As the six nations approach negotiations with Iran, the wider issues contributing to a new and ever more dangerous era of nuclear proliferation for the world are going unaddressed.

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Cosmic Psychobabble: The Fountain Review

September 14, 2009


It’s all that Deepak fuckin’ Chopra’s fault. Most things are when you think about it. How else to explain the profusion of bullshititis that permeates the entire world these days? It’s a great gig if you can get it. Cherry pick a bunch of half-arsed ideas from the last few thousand years worth of religious belief, mix ’em in with a bit of  materialistic endorsement designed to make people feel good about their slavishness to consumer culture, give a cursory nod to modern science by inserting a few quixotic links to quantum physics, sprinkle a bit of faux-esoteric terminology over the top, and there you have it: a big steaming pile of new age “spirituality” – a shopping list summary of the worst philosophical ideas ever conceived of by the human mind. The only genuine talent you need for this kind of thing is one for self-publicity. In other words, you need to be shameless enough to pass such snake oil pig-swill off as “profundity”. That’s Deepak Chopra for you. Darren Aronofsky, on the other hand, is not so easy to dislike. At the very least, he does have a modicum of talent. Even if his movie, The Fountain, is not very good and equates portentous mumbo jumbo with depth – a most Choprakian conceit. Now I don’t buy for a minute that Chopra actually believes in half the crapola he spouts. But the thing is, Aronofsky really does appear to believe in his own schtick. This movie is so naively earnest and heartfelt that you almost want to forgive it, even when it’s indulging in the worst kind of new age mystical wankery, which it frequently does. Frankly, however, forgiveness is not counted among the virtues here at The Grand Inquisitor. If something looks like bullshit and smells like bullshit, then bullshit is what it is, however sincerely it was intended.

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Despot of the Week #6 – Idi Amin

September 11, 2009


Throughout the impoverished continent of Africa, rapaciously plundered by various European powers, plagued by disease and racked by an almost unceasing state of warfare, the rule of brutal strongmen has generally been the order of the day. Perhaps the most infamous of the barbaric Despots to torment the continent in recent decades was Idi Amin, the former stooge of Imperial Britain who rose through the ranks to become military dictator of Uganda, initially with the approval and support of the US, UK and Israel, but later at odds with all of them. “Big Daddy” Amin became the killer clown of Africa, butchering hundreds of thousands of his people while proclaiming himself the “Conqueror of the British Empire” and sending notes to Queen Elizabeth II, inviting her to come to Uganda to experience “a real man”.

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In Appreciation of… Brad Dourif

September 8, 2009

Dourif Headline Photo

In a new and occasional series, The Grand Inquisitor will profile individuals who’ve made a worthwhile contribution to any particular field of merit in human history. In Appreciation of… will take an in depth look at anybody who is creative, iconic or just plain interesting, especially those individuals who merit acclaim, but somehow always manage to escape under the radar of public attention.

In this first edition, The Grand Inquisitor will examine the career of actor Brad Dourif, pretty much the best performer in Hollywood nobody has ever heard of. While most avid movie goers will recognise the face from any number of bit part character roles, few people can attach a name to it, or fully appreciate the depth and range of Dourif’s talent. The guy does have one of the most distinctive and eccentric faces seen in the movies, which means that he has a tendency to get typecast as mentally disturbed characters, or creepy, quirky outsiders. Well, he is great in that kind of role, but as his four decade career amply demonstrates, Dourif can pretty much handle anything he’s given to do. What makes him such a brilliant actor is his seemingly perennial ability to bring something a little different to a role. Even when he’s cast in a relatively minor, B-level movie (as he frequently is) Dourif’s performance always seems to stand out as something memorable, transcending the limitations of the material. And as a supporting actor, he has an uncanny habit of totally upstaging the more prominently billed stars he’s playing off. Sadly, as is often the case with individuals of genuine talent, Dourif hasn’t received anything like the kind of widespread acclaim his body of work so richly deserves. But the thing is, you never really get the impression that this bothers him all that much. He does his thing and has fun with his roles, and like the class act that he is, largely shuns the trappings of Hollywood fame.

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The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch: Book Review

September 1, 2009

Palmer Eldritch

It’s become fashionable in recent years to hail Philip K. Dick as the world’s greatest writer of science fiction. But why stop there? Why not hail him as the greatest writer of the 20th century full stop? It’s not like there’s been that much in the way of noteworthy competition. The implication, of course, is that Dick was a writer of “genre” fiction, inherently deemed inferior to “serious” or “literary” fiction. Never mind that Dick was never less than deadly serious about the philosophical implications of the alternate realities he explored through his work. Or that some of the most interesting writing to come out of the 20th century belongs precisely to the category of genre fiction, with writing of a more “literary” bent becoming increasingly inert, straitjacketed by stylistic pretensions and an obsession with the mundane. The fact is, no other writer in the 20th century can touch Philip K. Dick for the sheer scope of his imagination. The guy just came up with one stunning, mind bender of an idea after another.

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