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.

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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

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.

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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”.

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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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When Jews Attack: Inglourious Basterds Review

August 31, 2009

basterds

The opening chapter of Inglourious Basterds is titled “Once Upon a Time in Nazi Occupied France” – and it’s a title you can read a lot into right from the outset. Just as Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time in America re-imagines America’s Wild West as a storybook fable of mythic grandeur, Quentin Tarantino’s latest cinematic extravaganza re-imagines World War II as a loving homage to spaghetti westerns, a delirious revenge fantasy, and a celebration of cinema’s power to rewrite history as an epic fever dream. In the fantastical alternate movie-verse of Tarantino’s oeuvre, World War II ends in 1944, with Jews exacting bloody revenge on Adolf Hitler in a hecatomb of terrorist atrocity. It’s probably the boldest, most irreverent and gleefully unrighteous take on World War II that’s ever been committed to film. And thank God for that. If I had to sit through another of the portentous odes to self sacrifice and salutin’ the flag that have cluttered up the war movie genre for the last couple of decades, I think I’d suffer a spontaneous attack of narcolepsy.

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The Man Who Stopped the Doomsday Clock

August 28, 2009

Nuclear Explosion

Over here at The Grand Inquisitor towers we tend to have a rather sardonic take on world affairs. Human history is essentially the history of manipulation, exploitation and violence. Amid the cast of murderers, bandits, despots and slaves who have thus far constituted much of the human race, there hasn’t been a hell of a lot of people who’ve really been worth celebrating. If you had to divide humanity into two, broad categories, the only honest labels you could apply would be “evil” or “mediocre”. Or bullies and their victims, if you prefer. Genuine heroes are about as commonplace as Methodist Christians in South Waziristan. Every now and then, however, you stumble across a figure who really is quite commendable. The handful who actually wrote a decent book or produced some worthwhile music, maybe. Or take the subject of today’s article, Vasiliy Alexandrovich Arkhipov, who pretty much saved the entire planet from apocalyptic destruction, Superman style. Normally, world saving scenarios just don’t take place outside of comic books. But back in October 1962, at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis,  with the doomsday clock just seconds to midnight, something like a comic book scenario actually did take place. The funny thing is, very few people appreciate just how close us human beings came to wiping ourselves out, or that a guy called Vasiliy Andropov saved the world.

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Despot of the Week #5 – Kim Jong II

August 26, 2009

Kim Jong II

In a world that has become increasingly uniform along the lines of democracy and free market economics (or at least the pretence of those ideals) it’s somehow comforting to know that there’s one little country out there that just refuses to toe the line. A country that adopts a policy of utter defiance towards the outside world as its number one guiding ideology. A country ruled by a gang of paranoid crazoids who’d sooner let their own people starve to death than accept any kind of assistance from foreign powers. North Korea, which uses the threat of nuclear weapons like Tony Soprano uses the threat of physical violence – to extort cash and resources from terrified foreign states.

Remember those old Asterix books that always started off with a picture of a magnifying glass highlighting a little Gaulish village, surrounded by fortified Roman camps? Y’know, the story about that one village of  indomitable Gauls that still holds out against the Roman invaders? Well that little Gaulish village is North Korea, the last outpost holding out against the evil forces of foreign capitalist imperialism. At least, that’s how the North Koreans see things. Pretty much everybody else just hates North Korea. And the reason they hate North Korea, is because it’s one of the few countries left on the planet that is genuinely scary, Freddy Krueger style. Forget the phony dangers Saddam Hussein or the Taliban were supposed to pose to Western civilisation. These guys are the real deal. Welcome to the bizarrely insular world of North Korea, where school children are taught that the Dear Leader, Kim Jong II, came down from a magic mountain to bring paradise to the people.

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Afghan Elections: Your Guide to the Cast of Villains

August 19, 2009

Afghan Election

Afghanistan’s second “democratic” election is scheduled to take place tomorrow (20 August, 2009).  It’s largely a sham, however, when you consider that the elected government will have little genuine jurisdiction outside the capital of Kabul. Out in the provinces – the vast majority of the country in other words – the rule of the Taliban still holds sway. Within the narrow confines of the capital,  the government will have little room to institute any kind of meaningful reform. Afghanistan has long since become a bloody battleground, contested between the US led Coalition forces and the Taliban insurgency, with the Kabul based government shunted off to the side in a position of powerless irrelevance. The Afghan government has become little more than a front for wholesale corruption, while various former Warlords, gangsters and other bandits pick over the bones of the ravaged nation.

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