Blood and Redemption: Mean Streets Review

October 1, 2009

Mean Streets larger

The screen is black. A voiceover intones: “You don’t make up for your sins in church. You do it in the streets. You do it at home. The rest is bullshit and you know it.”A young man wakes from his bed with a start. It’s Harvey Keitel, future icon of screen cool, but in 1973 just a struggling thirty something actor getting dangerously close to being passed by. He gets up and examines his face in the mirror while we hear the sounds of the street coming through his bedroom window. He returns to bed. As he reclines, his head hits the pillow in slow motion. The big, echoing beat of the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” – one of pop music’s most magnificent soul symphonies – kicks in as the credits roll, superimposed over a scratchy Super-8 home video reel of the characters we will soon become intimately familiar with. As the song hits its crescendo: Ronnie Spector’s impossibly plaintive chorus of “be my, be my baby” – the film’s title is unveiled in stark, typewritten letters. Mean Streets. That’s one hell of a way to launch a movie. And what a movie. The movie that launched the careers of Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro – the most iconic director / actor combination in the history of American cinema – and practically defined the template for gritty realism in film for the decade to come.

Read the rest of this entry »


In Appreciation of… Socrates

September 25, 2009

soc

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.

Read the rest of this entry »


Despot of the Week #7 – Benito Mussolini

September 23, 2009
Fascist_Headquarters_-_1934

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.

Read the rest of this entry »


CIA Fuckwits: Burn After Reading Review

September 18, 2009

burn-after-reading

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.

Read the rest of this entry »


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.

Read the rest of this entry »


Cosmic Psychobabble: The Fountain Review

September 14, 2009

the_fountain

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.

Read the rest of this entry »


Despot of the Week #6 – Idi Amin

September 11, 2009

Amin

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”.

Read the rest of this entry »